Working with shadow is difficult. It’s slippery and my hands always come away damp. The fluid slips through my fingers in ribbons, a glistening ebony the color of coal and spiders. All light is absent from the room since even a minuscule flicker can damage the material. Burning holes in something flawless yet fragile.
Onyx curtains obscure the windows, as to not let even a wisp of twilight inside the secluded workshop. The fire in the corner is cold, the wood damp. I haven’t lit it in weeks, leaving the chalky ash left to settle in drifts on every surface. My work absorbs every fiber of my being, making me forget to live from time to time.
As the shadow cools, retaining a more consistent shape, I drape it on a rack to set overnight. From dusk to dawn, it takes the shape of a human. Made to accompany its owner wherever they set foot, a silhouette of the darker aspects of their being. Their fears, guilts, and need for forgiveness. The hopeless dreams that still nag them in the depths of their thoughts, the possibilities of what could have been. But, nevertheless, their shadow is something nearly impossible to live without.
Just as I am finishing scrubbing my hands clean of inky stains, footsteps clunk outside the door, and a golden piece of parchment is slipped through the thin letter slot. It lands on the worn mat by the door, sending a cloud of dust erupting into the air. Once it settles back down to the creaky floorboards, I unfold the message and my eyes gloss over the sprawling cursive letters.
I’m calling upon you to perform a difficult procedure for me, one I’m sure to pay through the roof for. I need a part of me removed, the darker side of me before it consumes me. And I’m afraid I don’t have much time left. I understand this is something considered extremely dangerous if not impossible, but I am more than ready to take the risk. If I don’t, the consequences are unthinkable. I’m willing to exchange any amount of gold coins, as long as I leave this place detached from my shadow. I’m hoping for an answer soon, I won’t be here in this town for long. I have things to do in towns with more than a few dusty cabins and a field full of cattle.
A for Acheron. I recognize the handwriting immediately, it’s hard to remember back to a time I wouldn’t. How one person could be like a son to me and at the same time the son of a demon, I don’t know. I’m not surprised his work finally caught up to him, it was only a matter of time. I never would have expected him to last this long. But then again, the blood the courses through his veins grows blacker every day. Not someone to underestimate the strength of.
My nimbly fingers tremble as I smooth the parchment out on the table, picking a cerulean pen from the feeble drawer. I flip to the back of the parchment and the ink flows in waves across the surface.
༺ I’ll need a week to prepare, this is a demanding request, after all. Be here at dusk seven days from now, and I’ll do my best. But remember, I cannot make you any promises.༻
I shouldn’t agree to separate him from his shadow, I know that from years of experience in this work. Such a process shouldn’t even be attempted, for the risks are astronomical. But I can’t say no to him, not after all those years we worked side by side. I can’t let him down now, no matter what he has become.
I fold the letter with four sharp creases and hold it out for my owl to clamp in her beak. She’ll know where to take the letter, whichever abandoned shack or cave he is calling home for the next few weeks. She always does.
I let her soar out the open window, gleefully stretching her charcoal wings, and I get a glimpse of the fields and dirt roads outside my home. It’s barely a few seconds before I slam the glass panes shut again and draw the curtains closed. I’ve seen far too much of this world. I don’t care to travel outside again, not in this lifetime anyway.
The hundred-year-old knocker hits the shaky wooden door, echoing throughout my workshop. My stiff back aches as I walk to the door and slide the thick bolts open. When I open the door, and Acheron slips inside, a thousand years' worth of memories dance across my eyelids. But I push them away, maintaining a neutral expression and flat voice.
His dark eyes bear more scars than the last time we met, and he seems to have aged so much since then. That’s the effect of experimenting with dark magic, with every spell a small part of who you used to be dies. Six metal crows gleam on a chain underneath his cloak; the symbol of gold and wealth, all he ever seemed to work for.
He refuses to speak first, not to my surprise.
“So, long time to see?” I mutter, pulling out a chair and gesturing for him to sit.
With a swish of black fabric, he perches lightly beside me, “I’ve had important matters to take care of.”
“What matters? Bleeding dragons? Wandering aimlessly? Deserting everything with time?” I ask bitterly as I cross the room to a set of ancient shelves.
“My work always comes first, you should know that by now. The less I care, the less human I am. And I’m done being human.” he spits out, tapping his black boot in an anxious staccato.
I don’t reply. He didn’t come here to change his mind, I’m not stupid enough to believe that.
“How do you plan to complete the procedure?” he asks. Maybe I’m not imagining the touch of terror in his voice.
I finally come up from the drawer and join him at the table once more, brandishing a shining silver pair of scissors. The handles are made from a nearly extinct volcanic rock, while the blade is made from a gemstone with destructive abilities. A powerful instrument, indeed.
“You must understand that once you lose your shadow, there’s a price to pay. With part of you gone, you’ll never truly be whole again,” I whisper, running a finger across the smooth handles.
“I understand,” he replies. His breath shaking ever so slightly as I pull a switch and let the skylight on the ceiling open. Crepuscule streams in the room washing over every surface, much to my dismay. A long jagged shadow now stems at his feet, reaching across the floorboards.
With a deep breath and a quivering hand, I slowly cut away his outline with a horrifying snipping sound. Razors of white light blind me as the silhouette falls away from his figure. Acheron stumbles back into the chair, his entire body shaking uncontrollably. His eyes meet mine across the blade, but he doesn’t look like the person I thought I knew.
His eyes look more empty than I could have ever imagined, devoid of any pain. Or memories.
Without his umbra, he has nothing left. Only emptiness.