You don't like to think about it, but sometimes you can't help it. Most of the time, you don't, but the day is so long that your mind wanders, traveling forwards and backwards and rarely staying in one spot for long. You try not to go too far in either direction, but it's difficult, to say the least…
Fifteen years ago, your name was Jeremiah Updale. You were twenty-two, rich, and recently married to a beautiful girl named Evangeline. The two of you made quite the handsome couple, and you loved her more than anything. Your life didn't seem like it could get any better.
One day, Evie told you something important, something she made you swear to keep a secret.
Alright, you said, curious, what is it?
She told you about the starstuff, the fantastical substance that could do anything—heal, transform, even make you fly. She also said that it was extremely dangerous, and that there were people—the Others, she called them—who wanted to get their hands on it, no matter what.
If they're the Others, you asked, then what are you?
We're the Starcatchers, she answered. Our job is to return the starstuff.
You were skeptical, so you made her prove it. And prove it she did—she used some starstuff she had in a necklace to fly. She landed with a smirk, and you never doubted when she talked about the stuff ever again.
A year went by without any mention of Starcatchers, until a hot summer day—July fifteenth, you remember—when Evie said she had to leave for a little while.
But why? You asked.
Because, there's a gloriously large amount of starstuff in London, and we need to return it soon.
You raised your eyebrow, made your disapproval quite clear throughout the rest of the day, but she went anyway.
So you followed her.
Now you wish you hadn't, but, as they say, hindsight is perfect. You often wonder what might have happened if you'd stayed home. Maybe the Return would have gone as planned. Maybe Evie would have come home within a week and everything would have been normal. Maybe you two would have started a family, maybe you would have grown old together, maybe this, maybe that—
Maybe you wouldn't have become this…this thing.
The details of the Return are blurred in your mind—light, gold, maybe some guns. You can't remember what, exactly, went wrong, but the end result is still the same.
The Return didn't happen.
The Others got the starstuff.
And the exposure to the starstuff nearly killed you, too.
At first glance, you were taken for dead when some people from the nearby village found the two of you, but thankfully they checked your pulse and determined that you were alive. Barely.
Some time later, you woke up in a hospital in London, slightly delirious. You kept asking and asking for your wife, and they kept putting it off and putting it off.
You cried for hours on end when they finally told you she was dead, until you fell back asleep.
You went home after days in the hospital, but it seemed so…empty. You didn't even look like yourself anymore—the starstuff had left burns all over your face. In fact, any skin that had been exposed at the Return had burn scars. The doctor's excuse was that a building you were in had caught fire, but what did he know?
Even more peculiar was your newly discovered intolerance of light. Oh, it started out gradually enough—for example, you couldn't go outdoors in the daytime anymore without feeling extremely uncomfortable—but eventually, you couldn't even stand a gas lamp. You learned to tolerate the bare minimum of moonlight or a candle, but no more.
Later, you began to notice more new traits you had. You no longer had to walk; you could simply float or glide everywhere. You became oddly attracted to long black cloaks as opposed to more conventional attire. Strangest of all, the shadows of living things started gravitating toward you, as if they wanted to you reach out and grab them.
On a whim, you did—you took your servant's shadow. He froze instantly, and you were bombarded with every detail of his life, from what he thought of international politics to what he'd had for breakfast last Thursday. You let go, terrified, and her straightened up, blinked, and went about his business as if nothing had happened.
It was an unsettling power, unsettling and intoxicating, and you weren't sure you liked it.
You were sure of one thing, though: you hated the Starcatchers. You had quit blaming yourself for Evie's death—after all, you had just been making sure she was safe (and, though you wouldn't admit it to yourself, that she wasn't cheating on you.) No, it was their fault now, especially that one called Aster. Aster. He was the one who had convinced her to do what he said was right. (You also secretly suspected brainwashing.) What gave the so-called Starcatchers the right to 'return' the starstuff? Why couldn't mankind be allowed to know about it? To tame it and use it?
You made this your mission—to get rid of the Starcatchers once and for all, and to harness the power of starstuff. The only problem was that you didn't even know how to begin.
You began experimenting with your powers behind locked doors, quickly discovering that you could literally melt into a shadow on the floor, or on the wall, or anywhere a shadow could be cast. You could slip through the tiniest crack, because you were thinner than a piece of paper. With your cloak on and your hood up, you could become invisible in near pitch-black. After some practice, you disappeared anywhere there was shadow.
Best of all, nothing could hurt you. Nothing. You learned this one day when the maid was bringing your lunch upstairs. (Food was no longer necessary, but you liked to keep up a pretense.) She accidentally swung the door right into your head. Instead of bouncing off, though, it went right through you.
She apologized profusely, but you just waved her out and locked the door again. It was as if your body was made of thin air—of nothing.
That was definitely an advantage.
Your appearance was changing, too. Your light brown hair had somehow gone entirely black, your skin was pale from being indoors all the time—but the burns wouldn't disappear, so you rarely took your hood off—and your bright blue eyes were now a deep crimson red. Whenever you got angry, they glowed like hot coals. If you had still had the same attitude as before Evie's death, you would have resolved to go out that very night and terrify some people. As it were, you merely waited for the arrival of another servant.
It was time to practice shadow stealing.
When the servant finally came, you let him in, then disappeared. As he looked for you, you crept up behind him and grabbed his shadow. He froze and went limp, as before, and once again your mind was flooded with his life. You shook off the nausea and focused again. There was something you wanted to try.
Open the curtains, you said.
The man obeyed stiffly, parting the thick wool curtains and letting daylight in.
You winced. Close them.
He obeyed again.
For the first time in a while, you grinned. This was kind of…fun. You spent the next twenty minutes ordering him about, having him do trivial tasks about your house. Your other servants were slightly disturbed by his blank expression and stiffness, but they wisely kept their mouths shut.
Over time, you mastered your abilities. One night, a year and a half since the failed Return, you left your house without a trace, off for the place where you last saw Starcatchers—
You didn't skulk around the village like instinct said you should. No, you walked about like you owned the place. You went into an inn once it started getting light outside, where you lurked in a corner, unnoticed by everyone. You watched patrons go in and out all day long.
That evening, a rather familiar-looking man came in and sat down, ordering some food. Your mind raced, trying to pin down who he was. Finally, you got it—he had been at Stonehenge the night of the Return.
You glided over and sat in the chair opposite him. When he noticed you, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
Relax, you replied in an eerie voice you'd been practicing lately. I just want to ask you a few questions.
He nodded, trembling slightly.
Good. What do you know about the Starcatchers?
He looked shocked. Starcatchers?
Yes, Starcatchers. You know what I'm talking about.
I'm afraid I don't, sir.
You jumped up with such force that the table flipped over, and him with it. Don't play stupid with me! I know you're one of them, I saw you there at the Return a year and a half ago!
He shook his head fiercely. No, sir, you've got the wrong man!
Do I?! You roared, forgetting your false voice. Do you remember Evangeline Updale?
Yes, he said, poor girl. She died last summer. He paused, realizing that he might have just given himself away. But what's it to you?
She was my wife.
His face became graver than before. I'm sorry, sir. But I don't know anything about your Starcatchers, just that a girl of that name died here.
By this time, every eye in the establishment was on you two. You went back to the voice. Get out. Now.
Never had a crowd of people moved faster.
You bent down to eye level with the Starcatcher. Are you going to tell me, or are you not?
He avoided the question. What are you?
Your eyes flashed briefly, but you realized that it was the perfect moment to practice the art of lying. I am nothing. Nobody. Darkness. And I'm not the only one, either—there are thousands of us. You think your pathetic human enemies are terrible, but you haven't even begun to understand the meaning of the word. We have power you can't imagine, not even in your wildest dreams. We aren't difficult to provoke, but you're making it worse for yourself by not telling me what I want to know.
I don't understand! What did I do in the first place?
You casually stepped on his shadow. To be brief, Mister Hamilton—he gasped at the sound of his name—you killed my wife. Both you and Aster. You corrupted her, and you let her die.
You snatched his shadow, and he adopted the same blank expression the servant had. After some time sifting through his thoughts and memories, you let the shadow go.
Thank you, Mister Hamilton. I have all the information I need.
You put both feet on his shadow and let your anger overflow into it. Hamilton watched, horrified, as the shadow turned blood-red.
Sir! I'm sorry! I didn't know!
His pleas went ignored, and the color started creeping up his body. You honestly didn't know whether he would live or die.
His face was turning red now, and he looked at you, unable to speak. You stared right back at him.
Tell them Lord Ombra sends his regards.
One by one, you tracked down the other Starcatchers. For the most part, you killed them then and there, but for some, you stole their shadows and enslaved them. They usually ended up dead as well.
You even found Leonard Aster, the one who had corrupted your wife. You stood outside his mansion for hours, listening and waiting for the opportune moment. He and his wife had just had a baby girl, and you couldn't wait to exploit the family to show Aster how it felt. Unfortunately, they had dogs, two of them, and rather large ones at that. The beasts wouldn't let you near the house, or near enough to them so you could take their shadows, so you had to put off the Asters for later. But you would be back.
The other Starcatchers eventually caught on to your rampaging, so you had to stop for fear of them catching you. For a long time, you operated far away from England and the English people, Egypt and an island called Rundoon in particular. Your powers grew stronger. Your 'normal' voice was replaced entirely by the eerie rasp you'd managed to perfect. You didn't even look human anymore.
But really, you aren't human anymore, are you?
You're currently trying to find the most recent stash of starstuff, but you've almost forgotten why.
In time, you will forget your original vendetta. You'll believe the lie you told Hamilton so many years ago. You'll even forget Evie.
You'll be convinced that you've always been a shadow thief, always been at war with the Starcatchers since the dawn of time. You'll believe that you're under the command of creatures worse than you that are located in the Jackal's mouth on Rundoon, and that you go there to communicate with them (when in reality, you're merely talking to yourself.) No one will dare to tell you different, because they'll believe you, too.
But right now, you don't know any of that. You're just sitting in your pitch-black cabin on a ship called Le Fantome, with a terrified crew on the outside and a great black nothingness on the inside.
So, while your mind is still mostly your own, you let it wander as it will, subconsciously dreading the day you will lose it completely.
That day is coming faster than you think.