Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Twenty-Two

Ryan was trembling.  He stepped from the doorway of the Circle Room.  A corridor made of stone, with skylights of stained-glass.  The sunlight through them made colours shimmer across the dark grey walls.  The corridor was long, swimming with tiny points of red, orange, green and blue.  Someone – something, was bound to catch him.  If not Mr Finn then something else that walked these halls. 
     Ryan was very scared, but he didn’t want to die in here.
     As he hurried down the corridor the coloured lights played on him from above.  He swept left, around the corner.  A tall oak door stood there, looking almost as heavy as the stone that surrounded it.  He fit the small iron key in the lock, doubting it would work, licking his lips with anticipation.  A strange feeling was now moving through him; a disturbed mix of fear and excitement, brushing away thoughts of his own death.
     Somehow, the tall door unlocked.  Ryan pulled it wide, grinding his teeth to do so.  There was a staircase of the same grey stone.  It curved down and to the right, out of view.
     He went quickly to the low wall on the landing and peered over.  He couldn’t see properly, the angle was too sharp.  He moved swiftly down the stairs and crouched, sneaking a glance around the corner.
     Someone was kneeling with their back to him.  His breath quivered in his chest and he told himself to be brave.  It was a woman in a black suit.  He could see the curve of her breast beneath the clothes.  She was holding a spear in her right hand, her face obscured by a raven cloud of hair.  Her head suddenly swivelled in his direction, and  Ryan saw her nightmare-face.
     Two metal crosses where her eyes should have been.
    “No…” 
     You can’t run from bad dreams.  He’d seen things like this before, in his nightmares.  She reared up from her kneeled crouch, snapping her head left and right like a cobra. 
     “No…”
     She whirled the spear effortlessly, pressing it to her forearm and pointing it at the floor.  Softly, she spoke in a series of clicks and taps that left Ryan cold.  Click-tap-click.  The sounds twisted into vaguely human speech.  A question. 
     “Thiss formm pleesess yooo?”
     His stomach seemed to spasm and he jerked forward, racing past her.  He ran, young muscles pulling taut in his slender arms and legs.  Don’t think, just run.  Slamming up against another tall door set in stone, he glanced back.  She was racing down the corridor towards him, spear in hand
     …clickclicktapclicktapclick…
     Amidst a wave of groping fear, Ryan stabbed the key in the lock and turned it.  The door opened slightly and he grabbed it, pulling as hard as he could.  She slammed into him, a hand snaking around his waist, plunging forward through the door, the tip of the spear slicing a breath from his face.  A furious clicking scream in his ear.
     He was tumbling, falling. 
     His body hit cold stone, like a black bolt of lightning in his head.  Emily, please hold me.  Just hold me for a moment, please…
     Consciousness returned quickly, enhanced by remembered fear – Ryan jerked awake.  He shook his head, blinking and turning, hands against the cold stone.  He scrambled backwards and to his feet, the side of his head bleeding, his left knee ringing painfully. 
     The woman was lying at the foot of the staircase.  They’d both fallen.  The spear had snapped in half as they fell.  Its wide, razor-edged tip was clean through her shoulder.  Ryan flinched as she began twitching, strange silver blood pooling around her neck.  “Oh God,” he muttered, realising he was crying.
     He tried to stop, doubling over.  The tears rolled mercilessly down his face.  Was he sleeping right now?  Was he lying unconcious on the floor of Irwin’s lounge?  His ringing left knee gave out and he dropped awkwardly on it. “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”
     Something in his mind said, They’ll hear you if you don’t stop…don’t cry, don’t think, just move. 
     He climbed painfully to his feet again, turned away from the twitching woman, and hobbled down a hallway with stone arches.
     Eventually, it opened up onto a massive dark space.  He couldn’t judge how vast it was.  No windows that he could see, just space and darkness.  His mind was assaulted by the sense of scale.  In the far left, slightly elevated, Ryan spotted a gallery of tiny lights.  He squinted.  Candles were burning.  Someone was there, looking out from among them. 
     His blood went cold.  Something was standing behind him.
     “Yesss, we arh monstirrs…Ryanne thaa boi.” 
     He turned but was somehow unable to scream.  There were many hands and many faces, all of them with metal crosses where eyes should be.

***

There had been a young girl who looked like Celia, or perhaps Alice Gray.  She walked backwards through burned trees and broken stones that looked like words.  She whispered, David the Spider knows I can’t hide her, David the Spider knows I can’t hide. 
     He had turned away then, and saw Christopher watching him.
     Myers jerked awake on the floor of the burnt-out flat.  He swallowed and pressed a hand to his throat.  He was almost used to the smell now.   
     Slim shafts of cold sunlight slipped through the wooden slats across the window but it was still dark in the room.  There were sounds, he realised, coming from out in the hallway.  The waking world immediately sharpened around him.  His hand snaked past his duffel bag and reached for the gun.  The veins in his arms went taut as he rose from his makeshift bed, pointing the Beretta with tightly clasping hands.  The sounds were strange.  Was it possible they’d found him?
     He walked slowly across the room and carefully rounded the corner, aiming into the corridor.  There was a blur of black against black.  Someone slammed into him and the gun went off, echoing a sharp crack of sound.  Myers grabbed at the figure, turning, shifting his weight against them and they both crashed to the floor.  Myers rolled away, jutting the gun forward.
     “Don’t fucking move!” he spat, steadying himself up against the wall, “I’ve got a clear shot!”
     The figure was hunched on the floor, in the gloom, a suited man.  He leaned forward and a slim shaft of light played across his face.  It was a wrong face.  There were two small crucifixes where its eyes should have been. 
     It opened its mouth slightly, “Klick taap klick?”
     Myers felt his stomach twist.  What the fuck…?” 
     He fired four shots into the thing in a sudden frenzy.  The sound gave way to a strange ringing silence.  The crucifix-eyed thing spluttered, coughed and twitched in a pool of almost luminous silver fluid, as though it were bleeding mercury.  The strange clicks and taps issued from its mouth in a broken, laboured way.  Gun aimed, Myers moved closer, his pulse thudding in his ears now.  He stared down at the thing, incredulous.
     “Sorree, mye frehnd,” it managed before growing still.  Myers dropped carefully to his knees beside it.  He touched the crucifixes that should have been its eyes, fingering the tiny embossed surfaces of the twin Christ figures. 
     It looked like a young man…it looked almost real.
     “No way,” he murmured, “no fucking way…they’re making monsters.” 
     A wave of revulsion engulfed him.  He put the gun in its mouth and pulled the trigger.  The back of its head exploded in a slick of silver mush across the scorched floor.  Myers exhaled shakily.  The diary.  It had come for the diary.  Somehow he knew this, he felt it.  He had slipped into an even deeper darkness.  He didn’t wait to gather his files or his laptop; he slipped the duffel bag across his shoulder, put his gun away and pulled on his gloves.  He left the dead thing in the gloom and crept from the condemned building like a spider.  Into cold, clear daylight.

***

They marched Ryan, their hands clasped tight around his wrists.  He expected them to be cold like the dead, but they were warm like the living.  There was candlelight on the gallery.  They shoved him to his knees, drawing around him in a semicircle.  He waited as they watched him with their metal cross-eyes.
     Now he heard the voice of Mr Finn.  “Are you afraid, Va’el?”
     “My name…is Ryan.”
     Mr Finn was waiting just beyond the reach of the candlelight.  “Are you afraid, Ryan?”
     “Yes.”
     The metal cross-eyes glanced to the concealed form of Mr Finn, all at once.  On his knees Ryan clenched his hands into fists.  Mr Finn stepped casually into the candlelight and then kneeled, glancing across the gallery at him. 
     “Although we speak, Va’el, although we have voice, this place is a place of silence.  Lay down your dagger.”
     Ryan could only shake his head.  “I don’t have a dagger…I don’t have anything.”
     “Lay down your dagger, Va’el.”
     Ryan pressed his eyes shut.  “I don’t…I don’t know what you mean.  I don’t have anything.”
     Finn’s voice became harder, colder.  “This is a place of silence.  Lay it down.”
     On his knees, Ryan opened his eyes and screamed, “I don’t have anything, you moron!  You took what I had, remember!  You took her from me!”
     Finn rose to his feet, crossed the distance between them, kneeling again before the frightened child. 
     “You can’t win this war.  This boy-flesh will betray you, but I need what you are.  I need your courage and strength.  It’s all there, in your blood.” 
     Ryan looked away but Finn grasped his face, forcing him to return his gaze.  “Look at me.  This face is much like yours, these eyes too.”  He snatched Ryan’s hand and pressed it to his chest.  “This heart is much like yours.”
     Ryan pulled his hand away.  “You’re a liar and a monster.  You can’t get me to believe a single word you say…”
     Mr Finn glared deeply at the boy, his glass eyes reflecting candlelight.  “No,” he whispered, “I suppose I can’t.  Good for you.”
     Ryan scowled there on his knees, a fear mixed with angry hate.  He was a boy, yes, but he’d killed once before.  He would’ve killed again if he had the power. 
     Mr Finn whispered to him, “Shall I tell you a secret, fugitive?  Power is an illusion.  Nothing more.  Pomp and ceremony; a special effect of perception.  Don’t tell the Eidola.”  Finn glanced at the suited figures with the metal crosses for eyes. 
     “They’re shades, you see; the Eidola.  Phantom images born of lower consciousness.  They think I’m their master, that I make them what they are.  It’s better, for all of us.  Better to be of service, don’t you agree?”  He rose to his feet and stared down at Ryan.  “Any questions?”
     “You’re gonna kill me…?”
     “Eventually.  We’ll drink you first.  We need what you have.  We’ve got to be strong for when the Elders arrive.”
     Ryan pressed his eyes shut.  “Just…tell me how long I have to wait.”
    “Until Emily?” asked Mr Finn.  Ryan nodded.  “Not long.  You’ll be reunited with your wife – sister…whatever, soon enough.  Swelling chorus and dappled sunlight.  It’ll be exactly as you imagine it only better.  We won’t follow you into that world, in case you feared such a thing.  It will be good, Va’el.  She’s waiting.  It will be very good.”
     “Thank you,” murmured Ryan, through gritted teeth.
     “Don’t thank me,” Finn said coldly, “I have nothing to do with that.  Thank Seriah – Emily, when you see her.  Until then simply wait to die.” 
     He glanced at one of the Eidola.  It tilted its head, metal cross-eyes gleaming.  “Find the guardian that let Va’el loose, and kill him in a gruesome way.  The rest of you guard the boy.  Lillibeth has returned and I need to speak with her.” 
     It nodded. 
     Mr Finn drew back into the shadows, away from the candlelight, and was gone from the Silent Gallery.  The Eidola kneeled in a semicircle around Ryan, linking hands.  They seemed to watch him.  Ryan waited.  Soon it would be over.

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