Ghost Story - Shades of Black



(illustration by J. Edward Tremlett)

So, you're back. Well done, you're still around. There's too many I can't say that about.

Anyhow, I do have some things you gotta learn. And this time, you better pin your ears back and listen. If you forgot half the things I told you before, it doesn't really matter as long as you pay attention to this. I'm going to tell you about all of the darkness out there.

I thought that'd get your attention.

See, the way I've been telling you things, you'd almost figure that life down here wasn't that much different from life back in the Skinlands. Wrong. Things down here are a lot worse than up there, and I don't just mean because of Renegade gangs and Heretic cults. There's three things that we have down here designed to make your very existence a living hell, and if you don't fight them, you'll join them. And you'll be put down and Forged with the rest of them.

You remember me telling you about Oblivion? The patient darkness waiting to consume all things, right? Well, it has it's servants. Spectres, they're called. Most of them are evil-minded bastards that just care to inflict all the pain and suffering that they can. They're the ones that have turned to Oblivion of their own free will, and serve it like an army.

But Spectres aren't all demented monsters, all teeth and tentacles. Hell, they ain't even the half of them. There are other Spectres out there, Dopplegangers, they call them, and they look just like you and me. Act just like you and me, or seem to. But everything they do has one ultimate goal: Drag as many honest Dead back down to Oblivion with them.

You might not know one when you see one, but they are out there, and if you find one then get all the others that you can trust and beat the ever-loving shit out of it. Then drag it away to be Forged. Just be careful with your proof, half the lynchings in the Wild West were innocent people, so be sure. But if you see a Wraith consorting with Spectres of his own free will, get a Pardoner to check him out. You get the word, you strike. People pay handsomely hereabouts for a Spectre to forge rather than just Drones.

That's not to say that the tentacled crowd don't exist. Some of them are just that, mindless freaks out to kill, rend and destroy in Oblivion's name. Far as I can tell, that crowd remains in the Tempest unless there's a Maelstrom brewing. But I'll get onto them later. Others are like the Dopplegangers, but the mark of Oblivion is clear on them. They're the ones to watch for. They think, they plot, they plan, and then they go on to cause as much Oblivion as they can.

Most Spectres can only rest in the Tempest. They haven't got any Fetters, and the touch of Oblivion ain't strong enough for them to stay in the Shadowlands. But you'll see them, crowding at the edges of Nihils, just waiting for one of the
unwary to dive through that they can make a real mess of him. But when a Maelstrom strikes, all the betting's off. You think the Maelstroms are just big storms, right? Wrong. You ain't ever been in the throes of a big one, or a Great Maelstrom. Whaddamean, have I? I survived the fifth and biggest one of all! Damn kids, expecting me not to know what a Maelstrom's like...

As I was saying, they ain't just big storms. Sure, if you're lucky then it'll just be black stuff like water pouring down, but during the bigger ones it's acid or oil that the lightning sets burning. Plasmics falling from the skies, smashing through anyone dumb enough to be in their way, and winds strong enough to strip the Plasm from your Corpus. And if that weren't bad enough, they're the winds of Oblivion itself.

That means lots of incoming Spectres, riding the incoming winds. Even the ones normally just in the Tempest come bursting through in numbers and you can't see which way's which and it takes a damn lot of effort to tell which way one's going to try and gut you from next. If you have any sense at all, get inside a Haunt during a Maelstrom. And get ready to gut anything coming through a door.

Or hell, go play in the rain for all I care.

Damn it all, what'd I say now? Ah, it don't matter. It does bring me to my next point. You know that little voice you can sometimes hear inside your head? It might shout, it might whisper, it might say nothing at all. But it is there. It's your Shadow, the seed of Oblivion within every Wraith.

How do I know?

Simple. I never heard of a Wraith without a Shadow. Some say that Charon didn't have one, but I ain't sure I believe them. It's the price we pay for existing, Oblivion's mark upon us that keeps us tied here. Some say that a Wraith without a Shadow transcends, but I don't believe them. Then again, I think Transcendence is a crock of shit that the heretics spew to keep their little flocks in line. And when you track down a cult worshiping a Spectre that they think will lead them to Transcendence, it loses a lot of it's lustre.

The Shadow's a canny bastard. It knows most everything you did when you were alive, the Pardoners say because it was a part of you even then. But every dark thought, every moment of embarrassment, and every thought you ever had that you
couldn't admit to, that all fueled your Shadow. That makes it a mean sucker. Nobody agrees on exactly what it wants, but most everyone thinks it's trying to drag you down, and take you to Oblivion.

But then, they could be wrong. It could be trying to make you open your eyes, but they don't want you to know that.

Trouble with it is, you have no idea when you're saying something and it's really the Shadow. Some of them, like mine, can do that. So you say things without knowing you said it. And at times, your Shadow can take over. Catharsis, it's called. Kinda twisted when you think of what the Quick use the word for, because you sure as hell don't feel any better after it. But the Shadow does use up it's energy, what the Pardoners call Angst, when it does that. But if you wake up and you ain't too sure of what's just happened or maybe you've done some stuff you don't remember, then go see a Pardoner and make sure that you can take stock and repair any damage. And don't forget that most can't tell if it's you or your Shadow in charge. It's invisible like that. And if it takes over, then you might just come back as a Doppleganger and nobody would know. Now you see why most folks don't try to teach kids like you. Either they don't trust you, or they don't trust themselves.

There is one last thing I have to tell you about. They're called Malfeans, and if Spectres are bad these things are a breed apart. There are two kinds out there that I've heard talk of. The active ones are the Onceborn. They started out as Spectres and ate their way up the ranks, getting bigger and tougher as things went, until they were so huge that they were above just about any other Spectre. They're big, mean, and trying to destroy the Underworld physically. But the ones that really scare me, and should scare you, are the Neverborn. They've just been sat there in the pit of Oblivion at the bottom of the Labyrinth since... well, some say, since time began. They've crawled there and lay dreaming.

Pray that they never wake up.

There is one way to put your shadow down and shut it up. Castigation, the work of Pardoners. Look for an Iron Lantern, that's their sign. They'll do whatever they have to to strip your Shadow of it's Angst. Some of them just give you a good talking to, probing your mind with words. Other will lash it on out of you. But it works, that's the amazing thing. You woulda thought that getting beaten up would help the Shadow, but that's the part that really gets hurt. But then, that's what they do. Just hope that they keep your secrets secret.

As if they would.

That's all I can tell you, kid. Now, you're a bit wiser on what to watch out for. But I have a case I should be getting on with, or the Anacreon will have me for a shoehorn. Heh, I never said all the bad things down here came from Oblivion.