A Shadow of All Night Falling - Part 2: Hunters of Worlds

Interlude VIII: Resume New Courage and Revive

© 2006 by E. Liddell

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Every step now sent a stab of pain through his back, reducing him to a wincing, shuffling gait that barely covered any ground. Not that it mattered. He'd been walking through tunnels and corridors for... days? Had it really been that long? And in all that time, he'd found nothing, seen no variation in his surroundings except during the few minutes that his sister had appeared to him.

Sammy, he reminded himself. My name is Samuel Tsukino. It was important that he hold onto his identity. If he lost it again, he suspected that there would be nothing left of himself.

Time to rest, he decided, and sat down on the floor. There was nothing to recommend this piece of corridor for that over any other, but he knew that going on wouldn't represent any improvement, either.

This is a total and utter waste of time. The tender skin of his back pulled as he hunched forward. Before it had become too sore to touch, he had explored it one last time with his hands, despite the fact that he had sworn never to touch it again. It had been difficult to tell for certain, but it had felt to him like he had fluid-filled blisters running in neat lines from each shoulder down to his waist, and there was something moving underneath them. There was something foreign, not under his control, inside his body. He tried not to think about that too much. If he did, he knew that he would go completely insane.

Not that the state of my sanity is likely to make too much of a difference in this place. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm ever going to get out of here. Inside my own mind, my arse. This isn't my mind. I control my mind. This is something of theirs.

But if it's theirs, and they went to all the trouble of bringing me here...

...it follows that they, whoever they are, must be watching me, doesn't it? Well, then...

"Show yourselves, damn you!" It was the first time that he had spoken since his sister's image had vanished, and his voice was rusty with disuse, his would-be shout more of a croak. He tried again. "I know you're watching me. You couldn't very well be doing anything else. Well, I want to talk to you."

"You're wasting your time."

He started, scrambling to his feet. Somehow he had been expecting his sister's image again, not this armoured stranger- woman. He was inches taller than she, bigger, more imposing, but somehow the look in her clear eyes made him feel intimidated.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"My name is Phoebe."

"Queen Phoebe..." He didn't remember where he had heard the name before until the words had left his mouth.

"Actually, I never used that title during my lifetime. My granddaughter Diana was the first true Queen of the Moon--as you would know, if you weren't so afraid."

"What do you mean?" His eyes narrowed. "And, for that matter, what did you mean when you said that I was wasting my time?"

"I meant, in both cases, that all of this--" She waved an arm, the gesture encompassing the miles upon miles of twisting halls that he'd walked through. "--is something that you're doing to yourself. Do you remember how you got here?"

He hesitated, somehow not willing to mention Phoebe's Ward in her presence. "I... put a crown on."

"A crown which is now trying to incorporate you into the focus of an extremely complex spell, requiring you to make certain physical and mental adaptations."

He nodded, mouth thinning to a narrow line.

"Well, against all odds, your body has adjusted successfully. Congratulations. If only the rest of you weren't so damned stubborn."

A sudden, unexpected spasm of pain from his back made him double over. She waited patiently for him to recover before continuing.

"All of this is purely symbolic, you know," she said. "The maze with no exit is just an externalization of your feelings of being tricked and trapped. The pain... Well, eventually, we'll wear you down until you surrender and let us bind to you properly. The problem is that, if you keep fighting us, we're going to end up doing you permanent damage."

And that thing writhing inside me is, no doubt, symbolic of them. You'd think that if I were going to do this sort of thing, I could at least evolve something subtle and Deeply Meaningful instead of a bunch of stuff that a grade-schooler could interpret.

"Even if I wanted to, I don't know how to stop fighting whatever it is that you're trying to do to me." It was as close as he could come to asking for help. He wasn't the sort of person that normally did such things, and the thought of dozens, maybe hundreds, of other people's memories inside his head, in all honesty, gave him the creeps, but anything was better than being stuck here for the rest of his symbolic life.

She drew a dagger that she had been wearing at her belt, and pressed the hilt into his hand. "You're a bright boy. I'm sure you can figure out what you need to do with this. I don't claim that it's going to be easy, but you knew what this duty would be like when you signed up."

He looked down at it for a moment, and when he glanced up again, she had vanished.

The knife, as he discovered upon testing its edge, was sharp. Really sharp. Sharp enough to draw blood even when he barely touched it, and to do so almost painlessly.

The skin on his back wouldn't have been welting up so badly if something weren't trying to get out. If he did nothing, sooner or later, it would burst anyway. If he helped it along... something would change. Expressing my symbolic consent, or something idiotic like that. My subconscious really is a remarkably cheesy place.

It's really a simple choice, when you get right down to it. Adapt, or... be damaged, as she put it, and I'm fairly sure that I know what she meant by that. I donot want to spend the rest of my life as a drooling vegetable. But it's going to hurt like blue blazes to go through with this.

He sat back down on the floor, turning the knife over and over in his hands, but he knew his decision had already been made.

All he had to do was nerve himself up to cut, and hope that he managed to force himself to do it before it was too late.

Goto Chapter 33

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