Part 2: Break On Through (To The Other Side)
We twist through the corridors. I have no idea where I'm going, but I'd rather keep moving than stop and let the darkness catch up. The elf girl doesn't speak much. She seems very calm for someone who's been abducted by a drug-crazed nutcase.
"What is your name?" she asks.
"Shouldn't you know this?" I mutter as I jerk a door open. Great. More corridors. By now the fireglass mosaics have all but gone out.
"I know you are a patient, and of interest to Lord Jereth. He did not see fit to bestow your name to me. I am Aelia. You are?"
"Gaven." I grunt. “Aelia, huh? Pretty name.” I open another door. Closet.
"Where are we heading, Gaven?" she asks. "Where are you taking me?"
"I don't know. Somewhere safe from The Shadows. Somewhere your 'Lord' can't get at me, either. A place I can wait out the night." Around us, the fireglass dims.
"Were you to encounter such a place, what fate would befall me?"
"You know, lady..." I begin.
"Aelia." she interjects.
"Aelia. Right. I haven't really thought this through."
"Then perhaps you should release me, and continue on your way. I would not wish to be a burden on your search."
"HA! Nice try, lady."
She hisses. "Aelia. Not lady.”
"Fine. Aelia. Right." I pull open another door. There's a pair of shrieks from the room beyond. "Whoops! Sorry!" Close the door, move on.
"It is uncommonly dark."
"Thank you Nurse Obvious. Doesn't it always get this dark around midnight?"
"Then it means we're all in danger. Jereth must have royally pissed of The Shadows by bringing me here."
"And The Shadows scare you?"
I stop, and stare at her. "You can't be serious. You're the only person I've met in this place who isn't scared by The Shadows."
"Humans have placed a lot of power into the hands of their superstitions. The Shadows are but ghosts. They cannot harm you unless you let them."
I turn. "Last night I stopped a man from killing himself due to the influence of the shadows. The night before, one tried to eat my soul. Another held a knife to my throat. Yet another crawled into a corpse and got it walking around again. Tell me that again with a straight face."
She looks up at me. For an instant, the dim light reflects in her large eyes, making them shine in the gloom. I feel goosebumps rise.
"Tell me this, Gaven. Did the Shadows cause any of that harm? Or was all of that the results of the people around allowing them to act?"
Those goosebumps prick higher. I can't help but wonder if she's right. Jessamine killed herself before The Other got to her. Eric nearly died, but his was the hand holding my pistol. I almost gave up to Despair. Not even Naros touched me before I attacked him first.
"I suppose..." I grunt. This isn't a comfortable chat.
"The Shadows have only the reality you lend to them, Gaven. They are ghosts and shades. Not demons. Not incarnations of evil."
I'd like to believe that. It would make my life so much easier if it were true. But, deep down, I know that there's something more to them. Naros said it when he was in a deal-making mood. There must be a darkness for them to exist in. Something must be casting these Shadows.
Things cast shadows, but nothing casts darkness. If you walk into the wrong patch of darkness you may never come out.
The cold whisper in my head makes my skin crawl. I've heard it before. I whirl around. The darkness is deeper. There's a figure near the wall.
"Aelia, we're in trouble." I say. She looks at me quizzically. "Run!" I scream. I don't give her the choice. There is laughter in the dark.
What wonderful sport. But you have no light, no weapons, and no saints to stop us. We move faster than you can run. We never tire.
I turn down a crescent-shaped porcelain hall. The dancing figure dim and flicker as the shadow creeps behind us, almost lazily keeping pace. I turn down the hall--Dragon take it! it's ahead of us! The figure runs at us from the opposite direction.
"Dragon take you!" I shake my fist. The figure mocks me by shaking his own fist back. I back away. It imitates me, still laughing. So much laughter! I hate it! I hate it! "Stop that! Stop it now!" I howl, and kick at the figure. My boot meets glass, and the figure shatters...I'm staring at mirror shards.
A face forms from the fireglass in the wall beside me. We had such fun before. Do you really think I'll let you get away again?
"Leave me alone!" I scream at the face in the wall. "Get away! Go back to the darkness!"
That won't work. Unlike your companion the other night you have no power over me. Listen! You can hear him, can't you? Come to end your misspent life...
I hear it. Heavy steps. Thud. Thud. Thud. No...please, no...
He's waited for you for a long time, as he waits for all thieves and wretches. You've known this day would come. He's here for you at last.
The tread of heavy boots is closer...I can hear the creak of rope. He doesn't hurry. Maybe if I don't look he won't exist.
Thud. Thud. Creak.
He must be turning the corner now. I can hear deep breathing...that has to be mine. The Dragon waits to eat the souls too heavy to fly to heaven...
Don't look. Don't think about it...it's not real...the sound is too close. I glance into the darkness. There he is, in his dark robes, measuring his rope. There are no eyeholes in his hood. He has no need for them. He knows where I am, where I've been, where I'll go...
"NO! Keep him away! I haven't...I didn't...I don't deserve the noose!"
Don't you? Don't you, Gaven? And what about when she burned?
"I wasn't there! I wasn't THERE when the Dragon-taken fire began! I couldn't help her!"
Why weren't you there in the first place?
The hangman closes in on me. I couldn't help her because...because...no, oh god no oh god don't do this to me...
Was the trifle worth much?
"I needed...just a little bit...Longshankes would have had my legs for trophies if I...he threatened the baby...you don't understand!"
"Gaven, you are distressing me greatly." A scared voice. Aelia. "Gaven, we should leave here. You are screaming at a wall. There is nothing.”
All your life a thief, Gaven. She tried to change you, but we both know what you are, what you were, will always be.
"It was just one last job! Just one, to pay Longshankes off! I swear!"
Yes. One last job, until things got rough again. Isn't that right?
The hangman measures his rope, begins tying the noose into shape. I feel my knees giving way. It's right. Again. I tried to make it legit, I did...but there was Longshankes, and the baby on the way, and...
And it twists the knife again. What was that you felt, when you saw the fire sweeping over everything? Not sadness, no. Not terror. Relief, wasn't it? When you realized what it meant, that the shop was gone? That now your troubles were all consumed?
I'm crying now. I can't stop it. I'm a worthless speck of dung, to be wiped away...let the hangman come...
Something is shaking me. "Gaven! Gaven, listen! I have something for you. Take this...this candlestick. Fight the demon in the wall, Gaven." Aelia pushes something into my hands. I grip.
No. No, I'm not letting this Dragon-taken thing win. I howl, and strike the face in the wall. The darkness fades as I keep pounding away at it. Fireglass begins to glow again. I can't hear the boots anymore. The wall is cracked.
I fall back to my knees, and finish weeping. "I'm sorry..." I gasp. "I'm so, so sorry..."