Note: This piece is a work of near-total fiction. Close to 75% of this entire tale never happened.
To the best of the author's recollection.
A SHADOW'S REVELATION
July 5 2001, Thursday
A house somewhere in the Philippines
On the other end of the computer screen, the dark haired eighteen year old Filipino grinned when the terrorist in the ski mask was felled by a burst of 5.56 mm Steyr AUG fire. A few rounds of first person shooting in the form of Half-Life: Counterstrike did wonders for the adrenal glands. Even though he DID play it on a slow Pentium 166. He exited the game before a new round could start.
Now he could concentrate on something he had been putting off for the past few days.
His hand reached to the top of the CPU, tapped a button on a rectangular device. Then a mouse pointer accessed a telephone icon. After a brief racous orchestra of what sounded like malfunctioning dial tones, an icon of two connected computers appeared at the bottom right of the screen. Mike was now logged in.
After accessing Eudora, he found there were about twelve messages awaiting him. As the download progressed, he noted at least four of them had attachments from his school mates but did not seem to take too long. Logging on to the Net late at night certainly had its advantages, first and foremost of which was faster server speed. Surely worth the wait for the rest of the family to finish what they were doing on the comp.
Stretching from the comfort of a white monoblock chair, Michael Ongsingco right clicked the same double computer icon, selected Disconnect. The youth extended his hand and tapped the button, shutting the modem off fully. When it was early or in the middle of a month, Mike logged on only for the purpose of checking his mail. He worshipped chatting with friends on AIM and Yahoo Messenger, but only later in the month when enough time had been accumulated and there were minutes or even hours to waste. Thank God then for free Net servers at school. He could chat from there without affecting the family account.
He smiled a contented smile. Chatting or no, home account or no, responding to messages via mail satisfied him and made his day.
Momentarily, Mike cast a glance to the right towards the black bathed rooftop of Grandma's house next door, towards the jet, slightly crimson, evening sky above and beyond. Only the occasional rumble of a car motor and feline yowls disturbed the twenty-second hour's tranquility. Dad, Mom, both younger sisses, and kid bro were already fast asleep. Elder bro had yet to come home, visiting his significant other that he was. Mike made a mental reminder not to forget to leave the bedroom door unlocked.
Rubbing his hands, Mike faced the comp screen. To help him RP in his Magic Knight Rayearth group, he tended to play an MKR song or two to help him concentrate. The strains of Yuzurenai Negai filled the air, low in volume, as the words YOU'VE GOT NEW MAIL greeted him. His eyes skimmed and scanned each message, humming the tune of MKR's opening song in tandem with clicks of the mouse . Most of the other RPGs he was in were in a mild state of hibernation, since over half of all the members in all the games he had joined were American and were thus enjoying their Independence Day holiday.
Not quite so with the MKRPGML. If any, they were in a festive mood all their own. Tina had recently announced that they would be cancelling the two ongoing tales, 'For Starters: On Earth' and 'Anarchy', to start anew. This time, there would be but one story where everyone could play in. The title of the new upcoming game was still in limbo, as was the plot. Tina had asked all members to resubmit their character names and email addies. So far, Mike had done neither. As Mike browsed through the messages from the one group he had sworn to stand by through rain or shine, he noted nearly all the original players were retaining their previous characters. Terra for one still held Ferio while Ascot-san was keeping his namesake, Caldina, and Zazu. Mike had yet to hear from Chad and Chibi.
Mike's smile became a warm one at the thought of his wild and wacky group. What he would give to see each and everyone of them in person. Maybe when he got a good paying job in the next ten years...
The college freshman sighed as he hunched forward, planting his chin on his right fist, mind running. Inspired by Capcom's line of fighting games concerning the Marvel Universe, Mike had originally chosen to play as Gambit and later Cyclops of the ever-poular X-Men series a year ago, and he had involved them fairly all right in the Rayearth scene. While he had had fun playing as them, it wasn't his custom to play the same characters in the same game twice. At least for him, it would not feel as if they were truly creating a new story.
Mike needed something different.
About the moment he was deliberating for the committee of sleep to work on the problem was when a frigid gust of wind grazed his skin. Mike folded his arms together, shivering lightly at the goosebumps it brought. That was when he realized the breeze had come from the flight of stairs to his left, leading down to the ground floor og his house, rather than from the window to his right. He frowned. How could that be? The maids always kept the doors locked and all windows properly shut at nighttime.
Tension bubbled in Mike's heart as he grasped the sides of his chair. Could a robber be afoot? It had happened before in the general Barangay Mariana neighborhood. Random properties had been hit or at least intruded on by nightwalkers over the past years. Dad had always half-jokingly said perhaps it was but a matter of time before their home would be hit (though with Dad gladly waiting for the little twirp with his good buddies Smith and Wesson).
Outside, the family's faithful Dalmatian Duchess began a long thunderous series of barks. Mike craned his head left from where he sat, debating whether to wake up Dad or make for the stairs to investigate himself. While he was pondering that, Duchess' bowing suddenly ceased, returning the night to its original silence. That was when his eyes noted an eerie yet fascinating phenomenon that would forever stay prisoner in his memories.
The lower floor, with the maids long having switched the lights off, was a sable haze of utter darkness. As he watched, a long blot of extending blackness detached from that gloom and began a snake like ascent. Mike stared, fascinated, at the sight of the gliding monstrous shadow, a shadow that hinted at the presence of the mystical and the unknown. Crawling up his stairs directly towards him, it was a serpent out of a child's nightmare.
That shadow was now a liquid inky splotch on the landing, at which Mike instinctively moved his feet away from. The blot stopped a meter away from his chair and slowly rose like a pillar of smoke. The darkness congealed and coalesced into a living shape, and in the dim lighting by the computer, Mike distinguished the tall outline of a man in a flowing black cloak that swayed in the night breeze. A broad brimmed slouch hat topped the figure's profile. From under that hat, burning emerald eyes that had no pupils glared into Mike's like living beads of fire.
Mike began to mouth the Our Father.
He wanted to run. He wanted to shout. But before he could do either, though he'd already made a choice, the living shadow that loomed before him like one of JRR Tolkien's Ring Wraiths spoke. The voice was a spine-tingling hiss, a rasping reptilian whisper. Hollow and cold as as the interior of a crpyt.
"Michael Ongsingco. You know me."
Mike managed a chuckle, despite the uncanny voice. His buddy Jay Mata lived in the Rolling Hills subdivision, way down the street. He'd always told Jay he was welcome to drop by anytime, though he'd never imagined that when he did show up, it would be late in the evening as now. " Uy Jay, hanep sa Shadow kostum. Masyadong maaga lang para sa Oktubre 31, di ba?" Hey Jay, cool on the Shadow costume, Jay. Just kinda early for October 31, ain't it?
Mike would recognize the costume of the Shadow anywhere. He'd first read of the masked hero when he was third grade, in his dentist's reception room. Years later, he saw the Alec Baldwin movie and had fully become a fan. To his mind, the outfit kicked butt, right next to other dark avengers such as Batman and Blade. He wondered if Jay had remembered to bring the dual .45s.
The moment Mike wondered how Jay had done the moving shadow trick, plus how he'd gotten past the locked gate and the dog, was when the laughter started. Chilling diabolical laughter that awakened shuddering echoes from the white walls around him, asif a legion of demons lurking within had heeded their master's cry. The satanic mirth him cringe backwards, gripping tighter the sides of his chair. The young Filipino's stomach was punctured with frozen blades and his face turned pasty pale.
Mike had heard the Shadow's laughter on his own MP3 player, the low sniggering mockery of the old time radio episodes starring Orson Welles. More recently, he had heard Alec Baldwin's rendition. His was wilder and louder, more outlandish.
But neither could have prepared him for for the unreal ghostly mirth that his ears allowed him to hear. Combined, Orson Welles' and Alec Baldwin's were tame harmless sideshow acts compared to what he heard now. No actor, never mind how good, no normal living breathing human being person could have done such marrow chilling mockery. Mockery that stabbed deep into a man's soul and conscience and injected fear into them as easily as poison in a needle.
"Your lack of belief disturbs me, young one." intoned the voice again, as a black gloved hand lifted itself from the folds of the cloak. "To dispel that doubt, I will let you see me as I am."
The black gloved hand removed the hat and lowered the scarf, and the black clad stranger moved forward into the brighter light. Mike gazed up in awe, half expecting to see the hawkish predatory visage that was frequently envisioned by Walter Gibson in his writings and the subsequent comic books. What followed elicited a sharp cry of astonishment from the half-frightened observer's lips and caused him to bolt out of his seat.
For smiling back at Mike, right down to the glasses and slightly curly hair and swarthy skin, was his own countenance.
"Or rather, I have let you see you as yourself." spoke the stranger in a voice the perfect reproduction of Mike's. The real Mike's jaw was suspended, eyes bulging. Suddenly his knees were wavering, making ready to fail him and drop him to the floor. It was like looking into a live possessed mirror. The left black gloved hand leisurely gestured to the chair Mike has just risen from. "Do sit down." offered Mike's doppleganger, as easily as if he were the host.
Wordlessly, Mike sat, cold sweat on his brow. From the middle finger of his spectral visitor's left hand, a mesmerizing jewel on a ring cast shifting colors of light, from crimson to ultramarine to topaz and back again. The pupils of Mike's eyes shrank and expanded as they gazed into the supernatural luminosity. The girasol, or fire opal, was the Shadow's symbol as he understood. But not even reading about it and seeing it in the media could prepare him for the enthralling aura it instilled in him. The comic and movie depictions were pale reflections of the actual gem that glimmered before his eyes, like a shining doorway to the spiritual realm.
The sight of that uncannily beautiful jewel, coupled with the experience of seeing his face in anything other than a reflection, made the young Filipino's doubts vanish like lifting fog.
The Shadow. Alive and real. Right here and now, face to face. Mike realized that his visitor had not literally come straight out of the comic book or movie. The notion reminded him of the plot of countless fantasy tales where a fictional character came to life straight out of his prison because of some action the reader unwittingly did to release him.
Rather, Mike realized the Shadow had always been around and abroad in this world.
"You -are- the Shadow." said Mike at last after some effort. "Thought all that talk of Walter Gibson and Dennis O'Neil saying you exist were nothing but fiction and PR. Didn't think you were real." The Shadow, using Mike's face, widened his smile and spoke in a whispered version of Mike's voice. "Many do not. Especially in these 'enlightened' days of the new millenium, where nearly every unusual thing has a so-called rational explanation for it. What is deemed fiction is indeed pure fiction...to the mind of the common everday man." The gloved fingers on either hand curled and joined, settling on his lap. "They are ignorant of this fact: that there are times when fiction is a veiled mirror to reflect actual events. I AM the Shadow. I am very much real, as are most of my exploits and more as depicted in the various forms of media where they have been recorded." The sable stranger's eyes, eyes that were not Mike's, pulsed verdant, at which his heart skipped a beat. Definitely not contact lenses.
"You would be surprised to learn what else is not fiction." he finished.
Mike's eyes narrowed. "Such as...?"
The sable stranger said nothing but stared straight ahead. A compelling hypnotic stare, it was directed towards the computer Mike now had his back to. He'd forgotten it was even running. To his ears came the strains of Yuzurenai Negai, now on its second run since he had played it.
"Tomaranai mirai wo mezashite
Yuzurenai negai wo dakishimete"
The Filipino youth nodded halfheartedly...then the full impact of the Shadow's words struck him full on. In accompaniment to the song's introduction, he pictured the three Magic Knights from the anime opening sequence. Umi's hair blowing in the wind. Fuu's hand catching the sunlight's gleam and clasping it to her chest. And Hikaru standing proud and ready, as Rayearth materializes behind all three of them. The Shadow couldn't mean...couldn't mean...
"No way...that can't be..." muttered Mike, his throat having gone dry. If the Shadow's appearance and confirmation of his own existence unnerved and paled him, the prospect of Magic Knight Rayearth being a reality rattled and grayed him. He gulped once, swallowing, as the man who wore his face continued to regard him steadily, almost amusingly. "No way...that can't be..." he repeated. A mix of disbelief and excitement played out across the Filipino youth's features. More of the former.
"Believe it. All the events concerning the three young women who were summoned to Cephiro, events which you and many others know collectively as "Magic Knight Rayearth", did indeed occur. Exactly as depicted in the original Japanese rendition, the three young ladies were summoned to Cephiro twice in 1993. You know that two versions of the saga of Cephiro exist. The comic book version and the animated version. The latter was the actual tale."
Mike slowly straightened up and shifted his sitting position, breathing deeply and determined to at least hear the Shadow out before commenting. His living mirror continued. "After the second battle and Debonair's defeat, the three felt their tale had to be told. They approached a team of four struggling women comic artists, which you know as CLAMP. They listened. What followed was history. To this day, the three girls, now adults and college graduates, continue to divide their time between Cephiro and Earth."
Mike's fists clenched on his lap. Somehow, talking to someone who possessed his own face and voice made him forget his initial fear. "You may be the Shadow and all, but I refuse to believe that other worlds with intelligent life exist out there. Science hasn't actually proved it, neither has religion. The world of Cephiro, their neighboring planets, the events that happened there, the people in them...none of it can be true. It's...impossible." His voice was beginning to shake with his outburst.
"Did you not think the same way concerning the Shadow? If I could be real, why not the Cephiro factor?" returned the black garbed avenger, as an eerie lightly accusing crocodile's smile played across his lips. "I know you, Michael Ongsingco. You were first acquainted with the saga of that world and the three girls five years ago...till now you remain a dedicated 'fan', as you call it. You are as riveted by the idea of Cephiro being as tangible and solid as that chair you sit on, yet everything you were indoctrinated into when you were younger holds you back. When the pressures of the real world seem too heavy to bear, your mind's defense mechanism plays out a fantasy world where you have a semblance of control over otherwise uncontrollable circumstances in real life. That world that haunted a good portion of your daydreams was Cephiro, and it indeed exists. Your heart knows it. And you are in denial."
Staring down at the floor, Mike was silent at the Shadow's declaration. But when one is silent in such a way, does that not mean 'yes'?
The left hand with the shining gem reached to the cloak within. Then came the tinkle of chain and metal on leather, as something glimmered in that hand when it emerged. "I knew I would need this when I came to see you. You of all people should know what this is." Mike's eyes, lightly bloodshot, widened at what the Shadow held. It was a round pendant with a gold chain. The main feature of his pendant was the circular mirror, reflecting both Mike's bewildered eyes and the light from the girasol.
Carefully, Mike reached out and touched the pendant. His heart skipped three beats as he turned it over in his fingers. There was no mistaking it. It was unexplainable, but Mike knew it could not be a fabrication, no matter how expertly done. The pendant virtually hummed with a strange otherwordly energy as Mike felt it. "This...this is Hikaru Shidou's mirror pendant. It was an heirloom of Lantis and Zagato's mother. She gave it to Lantis, he in turn gave it to Hikaru after she declared her love for him, though she didn't remember it at the time."
The Shadow nodded evenly, face a sphinxlike mask in the form of Mike's visage. "I borrowed that from Hikaru Shidou, anticipating you would need convincing." The remark brought the Filipino's head up. "ANO?! You...Hikaru Shidou...what are you talking about...?!"
"Four years after their last adventure, troubling events occured around the Magic Knights' families on Earth while the clouds of war gathered over Cephiro, engineered by a then unknown being. The Magic Knights and their allies were reunited for a new exploit. Many individuals from various places, two of whom I had first known nearly twenty years ago, all played roles of varying degree and involvement in this case. I was one of them. I cast my lot in with the Magic Knights, working from the shadows to protect and assist them. In the course of our adventure, I became good friends with the Fire Knight and her shadow, Nova." explained Mike's double, a thin indulgent tone in his voice.
Once more, Mike's jaw dropped and he wiped sweat from his brow. The Shadow, all his life a being of fiction, had gotten involved with the workings and characters of another world which Mike saw as fiction too. Yet with the shock came...a thrilling sensation. The Master of Darkness fighting for the light on the World Where Will Determined All. He could almost see a humongous formless shadow brandishing a pair of smoking .45s from behind the Magic Knights, men and monsters alike unable to withstand the onslaught...
The Shadow chuckled amusedly as he seemed to look through his young host. That chuckle was a mere ghost of the mocking laughter men of evil so listened for with frigid blood and fevered minds. "A vivid imagination, I see. Something -very- much like what you visualize did occur."
The Filipino's face reddened. He'd forgotten his visitor could read minds to some degree.
A question that had been on Mike's mind the whole time bubbled to the fore, but the Shadow spoke first, voice still as light and calm as it was when Mike himself was relaxed. "You ask, what is it in the first place that brought me here. What it is I want from you, for surely I did not come here solely for revelation's sake. The answer is behind you."
Mike swiveled around, saw the message that he had clicked Reply for, but there were no other additions to it. "What do you mean?" The right hand waved almost casually towards the screen. "You and several people from across the world are members of a Magic Knight Rayearth group for what you call a role playing game, are you not?" Mike nodded dumbly. "Yeah."
"Since the culmination of the third and last Cephiro incident four years ago, we have been searching for an appropriate medium to make our tale known to the world. Neither the companies CLAMP nor Dark Horse Comics nor even a second Japanese company whose works focus on futuristic robots and outer space were willing to acquire the proper rights to publish the incident. So we turned to the vast frontier of cyberspace for new opportunity." Mike gulped as the cloaked man's eyes gleamed pupil-less verdant again.
"Eventually we found the group you are member of. We observed everyone of you for one year, myself performing most of that task. Members came and left as your games went on, but a core few stayed on, ensuring the groups' continuance. Aside from your writing skills and enthusiasm, we also chose your group for your ability to play characters that they had no idea actually existed. Frankly, a trio was flattered at one of your friend's portrayal of them." Mike found his thoughts wandering to Ascot-san...
"Now your group is undergoing an upheaval and a new beginning. We have seen the opportunity, and have seized it." Understanding blossomed on Mike's face. "So you mean you want us...?"
"To narrate our tale via your game of supposed fiction. Yes." nodded the Shadow. "As we speak, your friends across the globe are likely in conversation with their counterparts by now. The Water Knight must be talking with your chief Tina, delighted with how well she was played in your last story. And I imagine one of your...'kabayan' in America is receiving a visit from the Princess Emeraude." At the mention of the Princess, the cold smile on the Shadow's assumed face seemed to warm and brighten into a genuine gesture of happiness. Mike wasn't much in reading faces...but did this imply some relationship had developed between the Shadow and the Princess Emeraude?
That was really something. Plus the startling fact that Princess Emeraude was actually alive. Mike figured he'd find out the hows and whys behind that fact in the near future.
"And so on. Your friends are to represent their 'fictional' counterparts. Other people who were with us, whether briefly or long term, have yet to find their writers. At times, one may have to switch to another writer, particularly when the writer's personal problems interfere. That is acceptable." The ebony clad being who wore another's face steadily stared into Mike's eyes. He noted the mystifying gaze coming from them. Somehow, the room was starting to swim. A black gloved finger raised and pointed squarely into Mike's face. He froze again as the Shadow's voice returned to its natural form, that harsh spectral whisper that lifted the hair on the back of his head.
"You Ongsingco, will become everything that was me in this story, a story that has its basis in reality. I am to become your inspiration and you are to become my voice. You will play your part in making our tale known to to all, a tale masked as fiction. You will also bring me out of the mists of the past and into the heart of this godless era, where society continues to disintegrate wherever one goes. Your Philippine government for one is rife with corruption and scandals. Heinous crime is everywhere and goes unchecked, sometimes aided by those who had sworn to serve the greater good. You know this."
Mike found himself nodding agreement. It was a sad fact of life that such scalawags in the local government held positions of power in order to allow lesser evils to thrive. "Yes...I...I'll do it. For my country and the world."
His living mirror's head bobbed up and down. "This world has been without a Shadow for too long. More than enough time has passed since my very name struck fear into souls of malice. Generations have gone by in my absence, leaving modern scum to huddle with their sins in darkness, not aware that these eyes reside there and know what evil lurks in their hearts. May your writings in my name also serve as a warning to those who eat the bitter fruit borne of evil's weed. Should they still fail to heed that warning...I will depart from the arms of the one I now love and begin anew my crusade against mankind's darkness. 'Mercy' will become lost to them.
"Remember my words to you this night." said the ghostly voice as Mike's back settled against the chair, eyes suddenly heavy. Some alien influence was delving into his mind, enticing him to fall asleep. Mike fought, but the more he did, the better an option sleep actually looked.
"Attempt not to walk out on the duty you have accepted on insufficient reasons. Do not believe for the barest moment that you can hide from me, escaping from your task. No matter which way you run I will find you. For the Shadow knows."
Again came the laughter. A sneering sinister jibe of devilish mockery that seemed to voice its proclamation of vendetta. Some water glasses atop the small fridge near the computer rattled, as if they too shivered in fear of the being who held doom for evildoers in his laughter. It rose to mighty crescendoes, such that the entire neighborhood should have awakened. The last thing Mike saw before sleep claimed him were two glowing jade optics of light coming from his own face.
Mike bolted out from bed, released from the clutches of a nightmare of being buried in a pile of black slouch hats. Everytime he pulled out one hat, his own face with green eyes that had no pupils stared back at him, echoing laughter in his ears.
The youth rubbed his temples. Weird dream. Meeting the Shadow and learning he was real, and in turn learning from him that Magic Knight Rayearth was real too, and finally recruiting Mike to play as him in Tina's new RPG story that actually happened.
Mike happily hummed a tune from the Rurouni Kenshin theme song "1/3 Junjou no Kanjou" as he started his shower. Ten minutes later, he headed down for breakfast, a sumptuos repast of bacon and pandesal, a type of Filipino bread originated from Spain.
He was still munching as he hurried over to the comp to check his mail. This was his ritual before leaving for school. The less messages he had when he returned, the better.
He noted more and more of the members were resubmitting their addies or sending Tina new ones, as well as stating the characters they were keeping. Mike cussed. Anak ng pating. If not for falling asleep and getting that weird dream, he'd have thought of something by now...
The last downloaded message was certainly odd. There was neither subject line nor sender displayed. Mike blinked in wonder, it was too early in the moring to think. Maybe it was a virus of sorts? He double clicked the message to open it anyway.
The whole email was printed in bold blue ink. That wasn't what held Mike's attention and nearly caused the bread to choke his throat.
It was the content.
REMEMBER YOUR DUTY.
Mike's eyes bulged as they stayed focused on those words. The blue letters suddenly vanished one by one, as if the work of an invisible hand. The entire message was blank now.
The college freshman shuddered and crossed his arms contemplatively. The morning breeze from without seemed colder now. In crystal clear clarity, Mike could not deny the reality of events of the previous night. His arms fell limp to his side, heart beating much slower than before.
"Well I'll be hanged. He's real after all."
As they had done hours ago, Mike's eyes went right and out the window. Across the rooftops now basking in the first rays of the sun. His gaze travelled farther up, towards the sky. As he had known, loved and remembered from five years ago, Mike could almost envision the events of both Magic Knight Rayearth seasons all over again. This time there was a catch. He knew they had really happened.
"And so's a land where Will determines everything."
He knew what he had to do. There was still some time before he left for classes.
Mike's fingers rammed the keyboard rapidly, accessing the reply message to the group. He changed the recipient to firstname.lastname@example.org and the subject to "Possible change of character..."
Why did he have this feeling Tina expected this message only too well?