Mummy, I’m bleeding! the child shrieked as I landed with a thud.
Slowly, I staggered up, dusting myself off, ash and debris everywhere. “Was that really necessary?” I asked angrily.
Temper my ass. “What do you expect me to do?”
Why on earth would I give you directions? How boring!
“…of course,” I mumbled. “Well, it’ll be boring if I just stand here doing nothing, won’t it?”
Suddenly, a mass of light was launched at my face, and I stumbled backwards to avoid it. “Fuck!” I hissed. It was then that I was aware of him laughing. “Shut up Neekah,” I growled.
What do you know? I’m having fun! His voice was cheerful, though it still had that sinister undertone.
I got up. “So that’s your plan? Throw fireballs at me while I struggle to figure out what to do? From past experience, that stuff gets old over time.”
Didn’t stop you.
I just shook my head. “Movement…movement…” I got my legs to start walking in the darkness. Step one achieved, now to do stuff. I felt my hand prickle as a faint glow extended from it. The light didn’t touch anything, but it would hopefully stop me from walking into anything. Seek a way out, I told myself. So I began to walk forward, in the direction where the light came from previously.
Cold…cold…colder…. he said petulantly.
I rolled my eyes and nearly walked into a doorway. Hot! Hot now!
“You really don’t know how to play this game,” I informed him, trying the handle. Locked.
Why does it have to be by your own rules? he demanded. I’m the only one playing here, so why should it matter to you?
“Then what the hell am I doing?” I questioned.
Let your rules be your rules and my rules be mine, he sang.
He was becoming more and more unstable by the minute. But that wasn’t what I was worried about right then.
Because I could feel something approaching. It was slight, very slight. It would take one who had lived in pure silence for a very long time to notice it. I could physically feel the vibrations of the footsteps becoming more and more intense as they advanced towards me, hear the creature’s growl in the back of its throat, smell the hunger radiating from them. That door was a mousetrap, and I was the mouse.
I could sense every move they’d make. The second they leapt at me, I was already diving out of the way of the door, preparing myself to strike back. I swung around and raised my arm, fire ready.
I only saw its face when the light seared straight through it. Black scales and scarlet eyes. It didn’t look like Emisair though. Then again, she hadn’t finished changing the last time we fought.
It collapsed to the ground. Watch it, Miss Madigan, he sang. How many more friends are you going to kill?
“Not a friend,” I panted. “And it’s not real anyway. Everything you do is an illusion.”
Why so sure? And why so by the book? Hasn’t that been done enough already?
Shut up…I thought. I got up and inspected the door more closely. A keyhole? “I expected something more high tech,” I said.
Pfffffft. Keys are more entertaining. Now find one.
I suppressed a groan before starting in the other direction. Cold…colder… he murmured again.
Oh for fucks sake…I turned around. Hot…. His voice became excited. It finally hit me then, and I felt a wave of nausea rock my stomach. I reluctantly walked back toward the Emisair-like monstrosity. Hotter, hotter, hotter! he sang. Fouuuund iiiiiiiiit! he finally trilled as I stood above the thing.
“…please tell me that the key is just underneath her,” I grumbled.
The key is just underneath her, he said obediently.
“…why do you sound different?” I enquired. “You’ve been acting like a child all of a sudden.”
When he spoke again, his voice became quieter, more threatening somehow. Don’t mind me… he purred. There’s never been one so fickle as I. Do you know how dull it is to live with the same personality for the rest of your life? It’s…sickening. So I change. There’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?
“…I’m not allowed to judge. I’ve got Kaya,” I admitted.
That’s right…NOW OPEN THE BITCH AND TAKE THE FUCKEN KEY! he suddenly shrieked.
Open…oh god. I looked toward the corpse. She’s already dead, ya piss brain, he groaned. There’s no harm in it, surely?
“Forgive me, but I don’t usually dig around in people’s corpses after they die,” I said dryly.
Riiiiight. I mistook you for the cranky skeleton again. My bad, he replied snarkily.
I tentatively looked at the gaping hole in the beast’s belly. It had gone straight through, and I could see the charred flesh where the light pierced it. “Am I going to have to…”
I dunno. Up to you.
I inhaled. “Right. Okay.” I made myself reach down into the…gap. Ugh….it was still warm. I prayed that the key was just in there, that I didn’t have to…dig into the body.
Aaaaand it wasn’t.
I could hear him laughing. “How long ago did you make her swallow the key?” I asked.
You’re assuming I made her?
“Fine. How long ago did she swallow it?”
Just when the game started, my dear. He had changed again; his voice had become soothing, calm, gentle. Like a father singing his child to sleep before he smothered her with a pillow. Why do you ask?
I thrusted my arm upward, tearing through flesh and bone. “Just checking where I should look,” I informed him.
It was at that moment that the monster’s mouth opened and the key dropped to the ground. I stared at it, my mouth agape, my arm still entrenched in the monster’s body. My apologies, he said sadly. I was under the impression that the key was swallowed. Apparently not.
Grimacing, I pulled my arm out, wiping the black guts onto my leg. I picked up the sticky key and angrily shoved it into the keyhole. “This is your fantasy,” I said. “Of course you knew what happened to the key.”
But I am merely a director, he said calmly. I gather the stages, the actors, the music. What happens from there is out of my control. I’m not controlling you, am I?
I turned the key and opened the door. Nothing but black. I tossed a little ball of light though the darkness, and it hit what appeared to be a door about ten metres away. Slowly, I walked. “That right there,” I replied, “is a whole new philosophical debate.”
He laughed jovially. But consider this. Everything and everyone you experience is real. Everything you considered an illusion is in fact, genuine. It is merely, how do you say….different.
“Stop playing with my thoughts,” I said, opening the next door.
Everything in front of me was sky. Cold, silver sky. I looked down to see the ocean below my feet. One drop and I’d be there, in Helevia. “What now?” I murmured.
I suggest you make your leave, he told me. It is clear that you are no longer wanted here…
I frowned, and slowly turned to see Espers with big wide smiles slowly walking towards me. “Can I kill them?” I found myself asking.
There’s more where that came from, he told me. I doubt they’ll follow you though.
“It’s the key all over again,” I shook my head. I took a step backward into the air and fell. “Dammitdammitdammitdammitdammitdammitdammit!” I hissed as the wind screamed in my ears. I inhaled a long breath and squeezed my eyes close as I hit the water with a smack.
I’d only seen this done through Kaya. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect to be honest. But after a minute of floating beneath the water, I realised that I was running out of air, and there wasn’t anywhere to go. My heart was racing and I just focused on swimming down, I didn’t care where. Helevia was what I hoped for, but hell would do just fine.
Then I was grabbed, and pulled further down, at a faster rate than I was swimming at. I froze and just let them, and when my head started getting foggy, when I was about to give out, there was air.
I opened my eyes. I remembered this room, though the logic behind how I got there was a mystery to me. “How does this work?” I questioned. “Why is there air under a layer of ocean? And gravity for that matter?”
Eh….I don’t feel like explaining, he said in a whiney voice.
“…fine. But I don’t reckon that the laws of physics give a fuck about an apocalypse. Just saying.”
Pffffffft. And you say my logic is fucked.
“Your logic is fucked,” I retorted. I thought for a moment and looked under the nearby mattress. Yup. The large pile of matted silver locks were still there. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeugh, he hissed. Grooooooooss.
Does she still have the fingerbones there too?
“That came later,” I informed him coldly. “Though I must say, you’re a fine one to talk.”
“Whatever are you talking about?” A voice suddenly asked.
I froze. I knew the voice, though we had never spoken together. When I turned to look at her, I found myself relieved that I wasn’t looking at a mutilated corpse. “And what’s the point of you?” I questioned. “Why do you exist here?”
One green eye and one blue eye gazed at me dreamily. “I could ask the same of you,” she murmured. “Why do you exist here of all places?”
“That question is going to take years to answer. You go first.”
“Of course I exist here. This is my world, my home. You don’t belong here.”
“But this is my head. My visualisation. Why is he making you appear in front of me?”
I took you here because you need to be here, he said in a serious voice. You must be here with the empress Nereida, just like you had to slaughter Emisair.
“This isn’t Nereida, this is you, pulling her strings behind a curtain. She died a long time ago, before I even came to Delirium.”
“A long time ago? But everyone is still alive, don’t you know?” Nereida enquired.
“Not helping.” And then it hit me. I stared at Nereida, who responded with a slight smile. “Wait, what?”
He chuckled. Understand now?
“No…” I tried to process what she said. “Why would you-”
“Tell you that? Why not? You know it’s going to happen. You’ve seen it. Haven’t you?” Nereida responded.
“But…why would you make her like that?” I directed the question to him. “Why would you…what’s the point of making the empress…like this?”
Whatever do you mean? he murmured as if he didn’t already know.
“…her people are dead. She killed them all….if this is all in my head, then what reason would you have for creating a Nereida set before she slaughtered her people?”
Another dark laugh. Splendid…
“Consider this,” Nereida spoke again. Her gaze was calm and kind. More a mother than a murderer. “Everything around you is just as real as that world that you commonly reside in. But to that world, it is only a mere possibility, an idea born from imagination, not yet reality. Understand?”
Why so stubborn, the madman hissed. You know exactly what’s going on, you just don’t want to admit it. Because if that’s true, then that means that you have to accept something that you really don’t want to.
I stayed silent. Nereida spoke instead. “It’s still going to happen,” she said. “Nothing will change in that regard, I can promise you that. But…I assure you that if there were any other way around this, I would take that path.”
“….how can you do that? How can you make yourself do something like this?”
“Anyone can,” she said simply. “It is what has to be done. When you have nothing but your objective in mind, you can do anything. Kaya taught me that.”
I laughed then. A mad, maniacal laugh. “Did Kaya teach you to poison innocent people? To watch as they were strangled from the inside? No, don’t answer, I already know. Kaya would’ve never condoned something like this. And don’t say that she would’ve.”
She smiled back politely, and I felt my stomach swirl around in anger. “What does that make you then?” she asked. “Kaya allowed you to get thrown in here, didn’t she? She’s not the only one who sent lambs to the slaughter, you know.”
“Don’t compare me to innocent children.”
“But you are one. You’ve just forgotten it, that’s all. You think that you’re not one because you haven’t been allowed to be. But you are.”
I shook my head and charged out of the room, into the giant hallway. In front of me was the little ghost child. “How did this happen?” I asked him. “How did you become such a monster?”
“How did you?” Neekah replied, before lunging for my throat.
I found myself knocked to the ground, holding the little monster child away from my neck. I saw Nereida behind us, watching as if this was a performance. Desperately, I lifted him away from me and threw him back as hard as I could. For the next two seconds, I could only watch as he splattered against the wall, his eyes going wide and his mouth half opened as if to scream.
Nereida smiled smugly as I crawled back. “No…” I croaked.
“Are you alright?” she enquired, suddenly concerned. She reached for my hand.
“Don’t,” I hissed. “Just send me somewhere else. Hurry up and do it Neekah.”
Your wish is my command.