Chapter One
Ancient Light :: Chapter One

I'm pretty ordinary, like my name.



So what's ordinary?
Here's the recipe. Get born in the Carrawidgee District hospital. Grow up in Albion Bay with your mother until age six, when the family breaks apart and you're forced to live with your aunt. Go to school. Aspire to become an astronomer but settle for a job in the hospitality industry, serving french fries to ex-classmates. Marry some loser. Have kids. Grow old and die there, in Nimjala, a few kilometres from the place where you were born.
That's what ordinary is. And that's what I'd be, if it wasn't for some of the people I know. Nathan. Shine. Cassandra.
They're not ordinary.
Strictly speaking, they're extraordinary.
:: ::
When the winds first hit - the savage, otherworld winds that carried fragments of monstrous shadows right along the coast and into the city - I'd been away, on holidays with my aunt and uncle. Visiting relatives.
I hadn't wanted to go. But Nathan had disappeared from the area after the business with his parents, brooding about himself and his new ghostly nature, and the others were loners who weren't showing a lot of interest in me. Shine would turn up now and then, easing himself out of the shadows as though he'd just stepped through a doorway that wasn't there. We'd talk, then he'd go. I hadn't seen him for a couple of weeks.
Perhaps it was lucky that my aunt and uncle and I weren't in Nimjala during the Shadow storm. By all reports it was devastating. Over a hundred people in Albion Bay were declared dead and many more reported missing, never found. The incidence of mental breakdown soared. Cost from property damage ran into millions of dollars, according to the Herald. Nimjala was declared a disaster area.
As well, there were stories of strange, supernatural occurrences, and not all those stories were later talked out of existence. As I sat in a hotel room in Brisbane, too far from the scene to get back to my friends, I watched the reports and felt a terrible dread that this was the end of everything. I'd been anticipating such an end, ever since I found out that a dark inhuman world called Tenebra lay just behind the skin of this one, and that it wanted desperately and coldly to break through and destroy us. That sort of knowledge doesn't help you to sleep. It makes you think the worst.
But there's a human side to Tenebra, too. Sometimes, snatched away on the eve of death, teenagers are taken to the Shadow Realm, where their lives, their very natures are changed. None of them know why. Some escape back - but they're never the same. They become ghosts when exposed to light. They blend with the darkness, travelling through shadows from place to place in the blink of an eye. They're stronger than they used to be. Sometimes they can see into your mind.
They call themselves Shades.
I count some of them as friends.
:: ::
For the first few weeks after the storm winds abated, we weren't allowed to return to Nimjala. We stayed in a hotel in a small tourist village a bit to the north, waiting for the all-clear from the authorities. Every now and then, I'd try to ring through. For a while the lines were down and all I got was a message from the phone company informing me that 'the area was experiencing service difficulties'. Then, when the lines were cleared, no one answered, not Nathan's father, not anyone. I finally got through to Jane, a human friend from school. She hadn't seen any of our classmates for over a week, she said, and I couldn't ask her about the Shades. Like most people, she had no idea they existed.
So how do you contact Shades? Talk into dark patches hiding in the corner of the room? Shout at the night? In the end I rang Cassandra's mobile - reluctantly, because she made me uncomfortable most of the time. She didn't answer and I was passed on to her voicemail service, but she never replied to my message, which was about what I'd expected of her. I didn't like her much. She'd never been helpful and I think she resented Nathan's interest in me.
Not that he had much. I hadn't heard from him since he left Nimjala a few months before, except for a postcard with a message so formal it might have been written as a class exercise. I was positive he didn't care. Shine reckoned otherwise. But Shine can hardly be considered reliable.
So what was the value in knowing about the Shades, of being part of their life? Very little, it seemed. All the knowledge did was make me feel even more ordinary.
:: ::
Late one day, as a gentle wind whispered around the edges of my hotel room window, a face appeared on the other side of the glass. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, dark and shifting, and started violently, blinking to make it go away. But it didn't disappear and as I focused on it, its familiarity increased.
The figure's hand rose and rapped on the glass.
"Come on, open up already. It's cold out here." Cassandra's voice was muffled, yet I could hear in it the superiority that was so characteristic of her.
I pulled up the window.
She was standing on a ledge that ran around the building, one storey up. Her short skirt flapped around her legs. Neither it nor the purple halter top she was wearing had any hope of keeping her warm. Her hair was shorter than it had been last time I saw her - and darker. A sort of deep reddish gold.
"I thought you Shades didn't feel the weather," I said.
She shrugged. "Looks like I should though, don't you think? Can I come in?"
I stepped back, wondering why she was here. Oddly I felt no elation that I'd finally made some sort of contact with the Shades. It didn't even occur to me. My mind was purely fixated on Cassandra herself.
That was always the way. For everyone. When Cassandra was around you couldn't help thinking about her. I was envying her right at that moment. If I'd been a boy, the envy might have been desire.

How could I compete with her? I know what I'm like. Dark brown hair limply framing a round face. Average build, not very shapely in my baggy sweatshirt and jeans. Ordinary. Nothing to draw anyone's attention.

I had no hope of capturing Nathan's interest, not when Cassandra was available.
"Wasn't easy finding you, honey," Cassandra said. She stepped over the sill into the room, her leg fading slightly as the dim internal light covered it. I'd been reading, so the only light was a fairly directional one at my desk. Cassandra walked over to it and made to flick the switch.
"Leave it on," I ordered. "I can't see in the dark, even if you can."
She shrugged and turned the lampshade downward then sat at the end of my bed. Silently staring.
"What's up?" I said.
Her eyes, hidden by sunglasses, might have been evaluating me, or might have been staring back out the window.
Was she going to speak? Silence lengthened and deepened between us.
"Have you been back to Nimjala at all?" she said.
I shook my head. "We're waiting 'till they let us through the barricades. Apparently our house is standing, but the safety checks are still underway."
"Safety checks?" She laughed to herself.
"Government ones. There was a lot of damage."
"I know. I was there. But the place is crawling with psychic investigators, not building engineers. You realise it was a Shadow wind, I suppose!"
"I guessed as much. What was it all about?"
"Just an accident. Doesn't matter really. You wouldn't understand." Before I could protest, she was on her feet and coming toward me. "That's not the problem."
I stepped away. "What is the problem then?"
"Isis. The Storm did something to Isis. Have you seen her?"
"Isis?" I shrugged. "Who's Isis? We've never even met as far as I know."
"She's a Shade, sort of. If you haven't met her, that's good." She turned toward the open window.
I grabbed her arm. "What's going on, Cassandra?"
She knocked my hand away.
"If anything odd happens, let me know. Ring my mobile." She began to disappear into the shadows. "And watch out for her."
"For Isis?" I asked. "What will she do?"
But Cassandra was gone, as though she'd never been.



Shadow Dance
Night Beast
Ancient Light
Black Sun Rising