Proem

THE FIRST I WITNESSED blood shed condemned my soul to the darkness. The first I shed that of another sealed my fate, and the first I gave of my own set me free.

Imagine, if you will, a you that eternity could never possibly comprehend. Imagine yourself a creature immune to time and its intrigues, a ghoulish creature, a devil, a fiend, borne of rot and hatred. A slave to death, imprisoned by walls of flesh and bone, of sex and sinew, yet at the core of your existence you are but a shadow, and for all your ferocity, what remains of the spring ephemeral you once knew as your spirit is now nothing more than the tainted reflection of an infinite, abysmal darkness — all light forsaken, all vows wretched, and all desire wanton. Now imagine the cold isolation you might feel, and when the chill of it hits the marrow of your bones then you will understand that that is the life of a ShadowLeiche, my life, such as it was: desolate, devoid of sentiment and any shred of emotional intimacy. Nevertheless, I have had a long time to ponder my predicament, so I have grown accustomed to the darkness. Have been affected by it in the sense that I have acquired a morose affinity for it. Its thin veil of calm conceals the distance between who I was and what I am. It conceals my anger and my pain, and it conceals the merciless wrath that I have set loose indiscriminately upon the world for centuries.

I am manifest destiny. I am malice and deceit. I am refusal, I am arrogance, and I can slice open your heart and gut your soul. Resistance is ignorant futility. I can see everything, can know everything. All that you hold dear is laid bare before me, and I can wound you to the very core of your being, strip you of your flesh, and turn all of your deepest, darkest thoughts and desires against you until shame, humiliation, and guilt consume you. I am an influence peddler — the unrepentant voice of hopelessness and depravity — whispering a medley of irresistible persuasions into your ear.

With no more than a casual glance over my shoulder, I can see the past, the future, and all of the infinite possibilities in between. I am infinite — observer, juror — and I am judgment, its edict wielded with menacing force, sheathed in the slick conviction of twilight’s armor. My father had given me a name once, a name lost to me now. All I know of my own soul is the hatred that cast me into the abyss. Emissary of chaos, agent of disorder, or cosmic executioner, whatever you choose to call me, I can command the powers of the elements with an incidental thought, and I can curse forth a thousand unimaginable plagues. I am the will … I am the way … I am the bitter end of existence, and I can tear your soul apart. My name is Selena … I am the sword in the shadows.

Yes, the mere thought of my existence may be difficult for the mind to accept. Mortals don’t really want to know what stirs in the dark, let alone look it in the eye. They fear the wolf come at night clawing at the door. They whimper and tremble when they hear the raven’s wings beating against the shutters like the wind in the gloaming. Yes, they can feel death, can feel the cold steel edging against their spines — always. Every new moon brings no merit beyond the shadows. So no, mortals just don’t have the courage or the fortitude for such a leap of faith. They use ignorance as a shield, believing that denial will protect them in some way.

It won’t, not from me, and I am not the only monster you need fear in the dark. Many supernatural creatures wander the dimly lit places of this putrid world. Unfortunately, provision had long ago been created for the lot of us, and so the Leiche are oftentimes mistaken for other more notorious immortals. We may share some insignificant similarities with our brethren — although we do have better table manners — but that is as far as it goes. Beyond death we are, more or less — immortal — beyond redemption, or so it has long been written. Souls lost to the darkness the scriptures claim: a morbid affliction upon the earth.

But it’s all lies, you see. All lies.

Our paths crossed the darkness, very deliberately so, and we, by choice, embraced it, forsaking all we thought we knew in our mortal ignorance. I can see things you’ll never see. I can know truth, the truth that divinity often obscures. I knew I had not been cast out of Eden, and so I searched: for answers, for others. But no matter how long and how deeply I pursued the knowledge I felt was my birth-right, the ancient religious texts — old folktales and myths to me now — never clearly defined by what mystical means we do or do not endure our own births and deaths. How the Leiche came to be, how I came to be, was forbidden knowledge hidden in linguistic vagaries too opaque to translate, and so all I found was endless crumbling pages, fragmented philosophies, and poetic words. I found no enlightenment. The answers I sought until now had eluded me, leaving me only with more equally irritating questions. What’s more, in over two thousand years of pointless wandering, I had never met another of my own kind. There was no one to beseech in the darkness. Even the so-called metaphysical scholars were of no use, and the alchemists, who reached with their will into the seething depths of magic and mysticism, found nothing there but allusion. No one possessed the answers to that mystery — the mystery of my existence. No one. And in time, I convinced myself that I was utterly alone in my misery, existing on the outer reaches of divinity, no more than another grotesquery among many. Yes, many were the loathsome creatures that lived at my side in the darkness. Vile creatures that had infiltrated every corner of the world. We all know the legends; know them as if the abominations had cradled us at birth themselves.

Vampires — wretched bloodsuckers — are, beyond all doubt, the most disgusting of the beasts, no better than pathetic mortals with rabies. A pack of flea-bitten mangy dogs, barking at the moon’s waxing glow. They kill for their own pleasure and gluttony, and it makes me sick, but alas, they do pretend to have codes of honor: what they would consider ethics. The term ethics by their definition is a stretch of the imagination. To me, it’s all badly tailored justifications really, and so as you might expect, they always fall just short of grace with their false mimicry. Divine they are not. Gods they are not. They are simply sad little marionettes dancing in contorted spasms from filaments of frayed twine, and reapers — the cloaked moody ones — well, they are merely automatons doing their duty: ticket takers, nothing more. The Lycanthropes have more personality, but this story is not about the beasts.

The Leiche are not death dealers in that sense. We are not angels or demons either. Angels and demons labor for the Gods — each on their chosen side be it good or evil — punishing mortals, as they are charged to do. It’s all about divine retribution for them, no matter how you look at it. The righteous suffer and the evil-doers suffer. I have never seen a soul saved through suffering, have never witnessed a divine epiphany spring forth from the lament of the languishing, so I have always held fast to the belief that the Leiche uphold a more otherworldly purpose. Sometimes you just have to have faith in that which you cannot explain, and sometimes, you just have to do what you are told to do. We work for the greater anarchy of the Universe. We answer to no one, and it doesn’t have to make sense. We are the harnessers of souls, and we will drag you kicking and screaming into the light if we must. Blades gleaming fiercely in the cold cutting shimmer of the moon, we are the dark horsemen mounted proudly upon our pale steeds. Our purpose is inevitable. Our actions — instinctual. We have no conscience with which to do battle, no ethical aspirations to taint our reason. We are not vigilantes for the greater good of humanity, either. There is neither right nor wrong within the grand scheme of things.

Salvation of the spirit. That is all that matters, and chaos has always been the vehicle of deliverance.

Revelations 6:8 states that we, the Leiche and our brethren, had been given sovereignty over a fourth of the earth: To Kill with Sword, To Kill with Famine and with Pestilence, and To Kill by Wild Beasts.

The innocent perish just as the wicked. God doesn’t discriminate, and neither do I. I have taken my share of each, have gnawed on the bones with little remorse or regret. Pity? Forgiveness? Dross sentiments, nothing more. It is not in our nature to nurture such ill-advised ideals. We have no right to feel compassion; never have had, not since the dawning of time. Deliverance calls for cold neutrality. A sympathetic will is a weakened will and of no use to anyone.

Terse sentiments aside, I would be most willing to share some of my stories with you — a little morbid vignette or two to tantalize the spirit — and depending on your particular threshold for such things, these stories might just rot your flesh from the bone, that is, if you can stand to hear them or even begin to understand them. You might even question the divide between hell and heaven. Be there no God greater than sacrificial will, be there no Eden as delightful as death. Plato once said, ‘No one knows whether death, which people fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.’

I will let you decide for yourself. I have faced my own death a thousand times over. I have no opinion to offer you; consolation is not mine to give.

However, allow me to start at the beginning with the blazing glory of the Roman Empire: a boiling cauldron frothing over with the worst of human tyranny and decadence.

It was the beginning…

The beginning and the end of my mortal life.