Copyright © 2000 by Michael SeltzerPart 1 -- Something To Believe In Chapter 1 -- The Accident
Where should I begin? One would think at the beginning, but where, or when would that be? For me the beginning was too far back to even remember. But I am merely a teller of tales, and this tale is not about me. At least not directly anyway. We should begin with her story. She is after all the reason why this story can, and must be told. Without her there would be no story to tell, and this world would surely have faded away. But I am getting ahead of myself, and that is never a good way to tell a story. So let us travel into the not too distant past, and to the outskirts of a small town in Massachusetts by the name of Bare County. It is there that we shall meet our heroine, and it was there that her life, and mine, were changed forever. (Don't you just hate those non-descriptive, foreboding lines that get dropped in right before the story starts?)
The general area was notorious for having treacherously winding roads that seemed to snake through a very large forest. During the day it had always been a picturesque scene of nature that one might see in one of those bottled water commercials. However this scene takes place at night. That particular night was a cloudy, windy, yet sufacating and hot summer night that seemed to be calling out to the imaginations of those that fear the things that go bump in the night. There were no streetlights for miles so one would have to depend upon the aid of the moonlight to assist ones vision. Unfortunately for any motorists the entire night sky was blanketed by a dark sheet of clouds, so the roads would have seemed very ominous to one who had not traveled in the area before. On the left side there were massive oak trees that seemed to touch the sky with their long branches, while on the right there was a thirty-five foot drop into a rocky small creek. It was on one such road that a rather large Jeep happened to be traveling. In the daytime you could see your own reflection by looking at its bright red frame. Even though it had been bought used, the jeep still looked almost brand new. The only indications to the contrary were the slight dents that stood out on the hood. There had been an accident with a boy on a bike. Neither the boy, nor the driver had been paying much attention. Neither one had realized until it had been too late. It was a head on collision that had left a massive dent on the hood. The owners sold the jeep to a man who decided to try and pound away the dent himself. His wife had tried to get him to let an expert do the job but he adamantly defended his own skills as a handyman. After the job was finished the husband wished he had taken it to a body shop, but refused to admit it to his wife. At the moment though, no blemishes could be seen at all.
What could be seen from a distance was the vehicle's shadow connected to a pair of moving beams of light. The vehicle seemed to glide along the road as it coasted at fifty-five miles per hour. The driver knew that she should not be speeding on a road that narrow at night but she did not care. The driver's name was Jessica Porter, and the jeep was her father's. She was on her way home from a concert that she had been at all night, and at that point she was in dire need of a good night's sleep. Her hair was light brown, ending just below the shoulder-blades, and it blew back in the wind that refreshingly surged through the open windows. She had brown eyes which seemed to reflect the soul of one who had lived a lot longer than her actual age. Her choice of clothes for the night had been casual. She wore a pair of brown hiking boots that were stained with small patches of blue paint from when she had been helping her parents redecorate their living room. Her blue jeans seemed to pull tightly enough to show that she was in good shape, but just loose enough to leave something for the imagination. Her purple T-shirt was baggy, and had the word "WINGANGO" spelled out in big letters across her chest. She had bought it at a hard-core punk show, and although Jessica did not know what the word meant, she thought it sounded cool. The look was all topped off by a gold chain that she wore around her neck at all times. Attached to the chain was a gold ring. It had been given to Jessica by her grandmother. Her grandmother had received it on her wedding day and wanted Jessica to have it for hers. Ever since her grandmother's death it had become something to remember her by. All in all, Jessica was an attractive eighteen-year old girl who possessed a certain quality that made people take notice of her whenever she entered a room. She had lived her whole life in Bare County, surrounded by the forest. She had traveled on the road in question so many times that she could probably traverse it blindfolded. Still, she should have realized how dangerous it was. But then, her mind was somewhere else. At a distance it would seem that she was trying to escape from something, or someone. For all intents and purposes that is exactly what the girl was trying to do, except that the someone was dead.
All night long the memories kept flooding through her mind. These memories were painful and overwhelming. They were from three summers ago when her boyfriend, Nate had been killed in an accident. They had had a fight because she accused him of flirting with a girl named Melissa Andrews; a jock-chasing cheerleader who seemingly never ceased to talk, and did so about everything, and everyone she knew. Melissa had a habit of trying to sleep with guys who already had girlfriends, and Jessica had been hell-bent on finding out if Nate had gotten any ideas about cheating on her. "So when are you meeting her?", "Don't lie, I saw the way you were acting around each other". These were the words that came back to her These were some of the last words she had said to him. Nate had stormed out of the house and headed home on foot. A couple of minutes after Nate had left she heard the sickening squeal of tires, followed by a loud crash, and ending with the chilling cry of a man who had seen the accident. "Somebody call an ambulance... quickly...this kid's hurt real bad." Jessica remembered running outside and seeing a navy blue Ferrari wrapped around a tree. She remembered her mother running to her, trying to shield her eyes from the body laying behind the car. Without even seeing the body, its identity was obvious. Nate had walked out of the house and after going only a block and a half, he had been hit by a car that had lost control. It was found out later the driver had just left from a party, and was on his way home to sleep off his drunken stupor. That did not matter to Jessica. Nate was dead, and she had chased him out of the house, and into path of that car.
After the funeral it seemed that she was dealing with it, that is, until the night she tried to take her own life. The girl could not take the pain of the loss mixed in with her feelings of guilt. So one night she climbed into the bathtub, and after a lot of crying, and remembering, she began slitting her left wrist with a knife she had brought from the kitchen. Jessica had not bothered to shut the bathroom door because her parents had gone out for the night. It was only by chance that her father had left his wallet by the bathroom sink where he had been shaving not twenty minutes earlier. Upon seeing what Jessica was trying to do he immediately rushed to her and...
Her memories and feelings of remorse were suddenly thrust out of her mind by a horrifyingly tangible image. There was a deer in the road. It had jumped in front of the jeep, and was frozen in place by the bright headlights. There was no time to react at all. Almost instantly the body of the animal had violently crashed through the windshield and was writhing in pain on the dashboard as well as on the hood. Jessica froze in a state of utter shock as the vehicle kept going straight while the road turned sharply. By the time her foot was on the brake it was too late to stop what she never would have believed could happen to her. While braking did slow down the momentum considerably the jeep still went over the ravine. She screamed in utter terror as the ground rushed up to meet her, clutching her grandmother's ring the whole way down. And then, darkness.
She got up and went over to the mirror to make sure that she was okay. After a moment of looking herself over for some sign that the accident had not just been some realistic nightmare she remarked, "It's okay... It's all good..." Her hair was a tangled mess, and there was dust on her back from the mattress, but other than that she felt that she was okay. With a shaky self assurance Jessica turned around and began to calm down as she brushed away the dust with her hands. Suddenly, a frighteningly familiar voice broke the silence. "Nothing is okay.. It is all far from good." For a moment all Jessica could do was stand there shaking out of pure horror. The voice she had heard was one that could not have spoken, for it was her own voice. With this thought in mind she turned around very, very slowly. Her eyes were wide open, and so was her jaw. What she was seeing in the mirror was her own reflection, only it wasn't reflecting her. The mirror image had tears running down it's eyes, and it seemed to be very distraught. Right before Jessica's eyes the image began to grow scars, and bruises all over its body. Blood began pouring out of its eyes and ears like two small waterfalls, and the mirror seemed to be filling up with it like a bathtub. The sight of all this created an unbearable urge in Jessica to vomit, which she did profusely on the floor in front of the dresser. After the feeling had passed she raised her head back up, hoping the image was gone, but it was not. The pool of blood was gone, but the image was now soaked in it from head to toe. The image spoke out again, "All is not well...far from well..." And as Jessica tried to comprehend what her mirror image was trying to say, she could not help but break under the stress of her current situation. So while her image stood there crying, Jessica fainted, and again came darkness.
She awoke again. This time on the floor. Yet again the feelings of confusion, and fear set in. She heard noises coming from the window. Jessica moved slowly to get up, trying desperately to keep her balance. She moved slower still to get to the window. "What???" That was the only word that she could come up with. What lay outside the window was a sight which almost caused her to fall to the ground again. What her eyes beheld was something that could not have possibly been. She was in a city, and not any city she had seen. It was daytime, wherever she was. The sun shone brightly down upon the bustling streets that seemed to stretch on as far as the eye could see. Where was she? How had she gotten there? How long had she been unconscious? These were her thoughts as she peered out the window. The room appeared to be on the fourth floor. The buildings all seemed to be wrapped in a shade of the gray paint which was on the wall of the room. Across the street there was a newspaper-stand, behind that a flower shop, and so on. If she weren't under so much stress at the moment, the view might have seemed like a refreshing sight. But it all seemed so strange, and yet Jessica felt at ease at the sight of something that she might be able to explain. The memory of the mirror image flashed through her mind and instantly she spun around to look at the mirror. The reflection was her own. She moved around in small motions, watching everything that her image did. It mimicked everything just the way it was supposed to. "Am I going crazy", she thought to herself. It was right after she had thought this that she noticed something in the mirror which made her feel even more upset than the past few moments. Her necklace was gone, and with it was her grandmother's ring! "It was there when I checked myself in the mirror the first time," she remembered in an even greater confused state. Jessica would have to ponder that question later. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of something on the wall that held the door to the room. It was something that had not been there before. At least she did not think it had been there before. No. It was definitely something new. This realization made her whole body tremble. Before the walls had been blank. Now there were two words written in large print, in what looked to be black paint. The words read, "The Dregs". Jessica did not know what it meant, and at that point she did not care.
She just ran for the door, but it was locked with a dead bolt, and a chain lock. The fact that she was alone in a room on the fourth floor, with the doors locked from the inside, was not lost on her. It was just something else that her mind could not deal with at that moment. She quickly undid the locks and ran out of the room. Jessica found herself in a brightly lit hallway where she just barely missed ramming into what oddly appeared to be a maid. An apology was said and again Jessica moved down the long hallway. She tried to calm herself down as she walked, but the questions burning in her brain were too evident not to think about. "I must be in a hotel." She thought. "What am I doing in a fucking hotel?" The hallway had a high white ceiling and a red carpet with pictures of families having picnics, and other such scenes. She considered this strange but then given her current situation everything seemed strange. At the end of the hallway was an elevator. The faded red doors opened up and a man and a woman got out together. They were holding hands as they walked towards her, and laughing, probably at something that had been said on the way up. Jessica waited until they had passed her, and then she quickly got in the elevator and immediately hit the button for the lobby. As the doors closed Jessica noticed something strange about the pair of individuals strolling down the hall. They seemed to be dressed like the people that were in the movie "The Untouchables". The movie had been set in the twenties. She had seen it the night before and wondered if these two were on their way to some costume party.
"Ding" The elevator doors opened up in the lobby. The sun shone through the revolving front door which lay thirty or so feet straight of her. About half that distance and on the left was the front desk. Behind it sat an old man, with glasses, and thinned out gray hair. She could see that he wore a red suit-jacket with a white shirt that badly needed to be washed, and a cheesy-looking red bow-tie that looked to be on crooked.
Jessica immediately walked over and began inquiring as to how she had arrived in the hotel.
"You came in last night with a young gentleman." The man answered. He seemed puzzled at her question, as if she should have known the answer already.
"What young gentleman? Who was he? Did he tell you his name?" Jessica was not being put at ease with this conversation. Instead of answering questions this man was giving her a whole slew of others.
"Take a look at the book. It's the probably the last entry on the page." He answered. She scrolled down the list of names to the bottom. "M. Bell. There's no first name?" Jessica crossed her arms, turned around and looked up in despair to the chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
"Are you all right miss? Should I call you a doctor or something?" The man said in a way that reminded her of someone asking a little girl if she were lost. Right then and there Jessica wanted to break down and cry. But she didn't. Instead she began walking towards the front door of the hotel. She was lost, confused, and above all scared. What had happened to the jeep? Who was M. Bell, and why didn't she remember walking in with him? How long had she been in that room? These were the questions that ran through her mind as she put her hand on the bar of the revolving door, and began pushing her way to the outside world, not knowing just how much trouble she would soon find herself in.
Mr. Black watched Jessica's every move from a monitor that always seemed to appear out of nowhere. Nobody knew how he could do this, but at anytime, and anywhere Mr. Black could call up his computer screen, and view almost anyone without them knowing about it. Outwardly he was viewed as merely a successful businessman, not the man that controlled every aspect of the city with an icy grip. He looked average enough whenever he left The Spire, but somehow he changed everything when he entered the building.
As Mr. Black watched Jessica he seemed to be in his late forties, with long black hair that went down to his shoulders, and bearing a long gold chain around his neck. The chain held a pendant attached with a green emerald inside. It never left his sight. His face was slightly pale, and strangely, although he could see, his eyes were completely white, as though the power of vision was not there. He was dressed in a black robe and sat on a throne-like chair that was made from human bones. A pair of skulls decorated the ends of the armrests. Mr. Black sat there and pondered recent events as they related to the unexpected presence of young Jessica Porter.
As Black thought, a knock came at the door. The word, "enter," was his only acknowledgment. A man in a brown suit, sporting a bowler entered the room, and shut the door. The man was tall, but trim, with a slightly receding hairline. He appeared to be in his early forties, and had a certain air of respectability about him. This man was to play a very important role in the things to come. I'm not sure how I feel about his place in this tale. Was it all his own doing, or was his involvement completely out of his control? I'll leave it to you to judge.
"What is it Mr. Watch" said Mr. Black in an annoyed tone, as if he had just been woken from a very deep sleep. Mr. Watch approached his master's desk with apprehension. This was not the first time he had been in the room. He was often called to be in his master's office. It's just that there was no way to feel comfortable there.
There was always an eerie feeling that Mr. Black's domicile created. For one thing the room never looked the same way twice. Furniture would be in different places, the strange goblin-like designs on the walls seemed different, and even the ceiling appeared to change it's height. Another reason that the room was unnerving was the presence of Mr. Black. The things that he had done in the past, as well as the things he could do to people were enough to scare even the bravest of souls into wetting themselves.
Still, Mr. Watch approached him and said, "A stranger has arrived in Morgan city. She came..."
"I already know." Mr. Black said, cutting Mr. Watch off. "Nothing happens in Morgan without my knowing about it. You should know this by now, after all I am the one who gave you your power, am I not?"
"Yes master. What should be done with her?"
"Ever since her arrival my connection to the boy has been hampered. As if it wasn't enough that he was torn from my grasp by that intolerable nuisance of a magician. This girl's very presence threatens all that I have built. That is, unless I can use her to strengthen that power. If she is as powerful as I believe her to be, then perhaps I can use her power to make my dominance over this dimension permanent! Bring her to me alive. Then she shall be mine, and then the boy and his magician friend will have no choice but to come for her. Then I will have them both, and that insufferable trickster will be gone for good!"
"Consider it done." And with that Mr. Watch departed to carry out the task of kidnapping the girl. And as he left he could not help but feel sorry for what would be done to her. He wondered, as he departed, if his ability to care for anything would remain once his master had gotten what he wanted.
Meanwhile Mr. Black stood up and walked over to the wall on his left. With one wave of his hand the wall seemed to dissipate until it was gone. It was night outside. The city was still bustling, and Mr. Black stood overlooking it with a grin on his face. As he looked, his thoughts drifted towards what he intended to do. "Soon. Soon the struggle will be over. It must be over." His facial expression changed to that of anger, yet, a sense of worry seemed to overshadow anything else. "If my power is not absolute, then there will be no stopping what is coming. It must be stopped. My power has slowly ebbed away ever since the boy was freed from me. I must possess him again! If he is not returned to me soon, nothing will stand in its way."
Jessica supposed that the night life must have been a pretty big thing in the area. The only big city that she had been to before was Boston, when she had gone with her high-school band to the state championships. That seemed to pale in comparison to what lay before her now. The buildings were much taller than in Boston, the smog much thicker, and the whole atmosphere seemed more lively. She finally broke down and decided to ask where the closest police station was. After all, her parents would be worried sick, and maybe at the station someone could arrange to get her home. The fact that her current whereabouts were not known to even her lingered in the back of her mind. It took a moment, but she spotted a gas station a few blocks away. Jessica made her way over and walked up to one of the mechanics. He appeared to be in his late twenties; a tall, skinny man with spiked hair, and a beard that looked like it was completely overgrown and in need of trimming. "Excuse me?" She said. The man looked up to see who was talking to him and replied, "Can I help you?" She paused uneasily. She couldn't help but notice that his eyes were not directed at her face when he talked. Instead they seemed fixated on her chest which she quickly folded her arms over. His point of vision rose reluctantly up to see the disdained look on her face. Once she was sure where his attention was she continued her questioning. He told her what she wanted to know, and she quickly departed. As she walked away Jessica glanced back at the station. Sure enough the man was looking at her, but not the way she expected. He was on the phone and seemed adamant about something. She decided to forget about it. Jessica traveled the streets, carefully following the directions that were given to her. After much walking she finally came to her destination. It looked like any other police station that she had seen. Obviously it was bigger than the one from her home town, but the atmosphere remained the same. There was a set of stairs made out of concrete that led up to the front doors. Everything looked well kept around the front area; from the neatly trimmed hedges, to the finely mowed grass lawn. There was one oddity though. Just outside the precinct she saw a man sitting about halfway up the steps. He looked to be in his early fifties. His hair was neatly combed with some gray on the sides mixed in with dark black on the top. His clothes seemed old and worn, but in pretty good shape; a collared black shirt with white buttons, blue jeans that were faded and torn at the knees, bottomed off with a pair of expensive looking black penny-loafers that shined brightly in the sunlight. He did not seem like he lived on the streets, so why was the man sitting on a set of stairs playing a guitar? He was mumbling out song lyrics that were sung too softly to hear even though she strained to do so. She was about to pass by him when he spoke to her with a hoarse voice. "You don't want to go in there."
She turned towards him and said "Excuse me?"
"You don't want to go in there.", the man said as he pointed towards the precinct. "Definitely not for you." He took a drag from a cigarette, and then spoke again. "You want to go to The Dregs"
After a short pause caused by the shock of the man's words, Jessica asked the man in a quivering voice, "How did you know that? Who are you?" The man would not reply. He just went back to strumming his guitar, and mumbling lyrics too softly for her to hear. She tried again to get his attention, even going so far as to grab his shirt collar. As she did so her voice got louder, but quivered out of extreme frustration and confusion at his seemingly catatonic state. Jessica finally gave up trying to talk to him and turned away slowly. She headed for the front door of the precinct, but before going in she looked back one more time at the strange man who had given her hope for answers, and then taken that hope away. He was not there. She scanned the area but could not see him. It was like he had just vanished. With that Jessica burst through the front door of the building and ran straight to the front desk. A policeman asked her why she was crying. "Are you hurt young lady? What's wrong?" She could not answer. All she could do was crumple into a ball on the floor and cry. Too much had happened. Her mind could not deal with all of the unexplained events which had brought her there. It was all too much. Even the strongest of walls eventually breaks under too much weight. The officer took her to an office and put her on a sofa. He tried to calm her and get her to talk, instead she cried herself to sleep. As soon as the officer saw that she was asleep he picked up a phone from the desk and made a call. "Chief, there's a girl down here that came in off the street. She seems very distraught, and matches the description of that Porter girl. No, I'm not kidding. She's right here in my office passed out on my sofa. You want to talk to her? What's all the fuss about this one anyway, it's just another runaw...? Yes sir. Yes sir. No sir. Yes sir. She'll be here." With that the officer left the room and locked the door behind him, leaving Jessica to sleep, and dream.
"I did as you asked." The young man had said.
"Then why is she not in the room?" The other man replied.
"What do you mean?"
"Close your eyes and look. The door is open, and she is gone."
"How did this happen? I used the suspended animation spell just like you showed me."
"Yes you did."
"Then why the fuck isn't she there? Where did she go?"
"I'm curious about that myself."
"I still don't see why we're going through all of this trouble for one girl. I mean..."
"Was there nothing you felt in her presence? Have I taught you nothing in all this time?"
"Time is a man-made illusion."
"Throwing my own words at me, eh. Well if you're so smart then what did you notice about the girl?"
"She did have a nice set of..."
"Focus. The fate of the world is at stake and you're thinking with the wrong set of marbles."
"You don't think they were...?"
"Oh boy," The older man put his head in his
hands and started grumbling some words that could not be made
out. After a moment, he lifted his head up and said
"Yes, the girl is attractive, now will you focus on the matter at hand?"
"So what did you notice about the girl, other than her physical appearance?"
"She had a strange glow about her. It was as though something on the inside of her was trying to push it's way out."
"Exactly. Can't you see that this is what we have been waiting for? That girl may hold the key to the mysteries that have plagued you your entire life, and baffled me for quite some time. Through her, there is a chance to find out how you came to be in the clutches of Mr. Black, and most importantly she is our last chance to end the reign of that twisted piece of humanity"
"I still don't understand why we can't stop him ourselves?"
"He has grown far too powerful, and most of my energies were spent freeing you from that damnable Pullson Siphon of his. That thing nearly killed us both. Instead it gave most of my power to you."
"I know. And I am grateful for all you've done for me, but..."
"You want some action, some adventure. Believe me, it's highly overrated."
"Isn't that what we've been working towards. Getting your strength back up, improving my skills, aren't these things we're doing to prepare for some big battle?"
"You want a battle? It'll come soon enough. Only it won't be fought the way you expect, and there will be more riding on the outcome than in one of those video games you seem so fond of playing. This fight that is coming up, and believe me it is coming fast, it will not be pretty, and in the end there may be no-one left to claim a victory. Do you understand? The youth responded only with a nod of his head. "Now go seek out this girl again. She must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands."
"Well, I see you're awake." He said.
"Yes, um, why was the door locked?" Jessica asked. It seemed like a pertinent question since she still did not trust the man entirely.
"Oh, well you were in such a rather frantic state that the officer thought it might be best for you to calm down undisturbed." Jessica felt slightly reassured. She looked at the man and wondered who he was. He seemed normal enough, but there was one thing that seemed unusual. His brown suit, which seemed to be fairly new, was topped off by an old tattered brown bowler. She put it out of her mind as the man began to speak again. He informed her that her parents had been looking for her for a week. After she had arrived they had been notified and were on there way to get her. Upon hearing this revelation Jessica couldn't help but let out a heavy sigh of relief. The man patted her on the shoulder and told her not to worry. "They'll be arriving tomorrow by car. I have been asked to see that you are escorted to a hotel for the night." Jessica was savoring every word of this good news. Her ordeal seemed to almost be at an end. "Thank you. Thank you very much Mr..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I never introduced myself. My name is John Watch. Chief Watch actually. I'm in charge of keeping the city streets of Morgan safe." Jessica couldn't remember any city by that name, but she probably just hadn't heard of it before. It didn't matter, she was going home tomorrow. The nightmare was almost over. We know better than that though. If it were over, then the this tale would not have been a tale worth telling. Still, it was all she could think about as they headed out the front door of the precinct, and down the steps where the strange old man had been sitting. But she wasn't thinking about him as the two of them walked towards Mr. Watch's car, nor did she notice the man who was walking behind them. The car was shiny brown '96' Cadillac, and the closer it got, the more Jessica thought of it as a rescue ship, waiting to ferry her to safety. Mr. Watch opened the passenger side door for her to get in, and she did so, stretching out on the extremely comfortable leather upholstery. Then he casually walked around towards the drivers side and opened the door. "Thwack" That was the sound Jessica heard. What she saw was some guy bashing Chief Watch's head with the butt of a revolver. The stranger climbed into the car, and started the engine with the keys he had stolen out of the hands of the unconscious owner of the car. The man put the car into drive, and floored it. In that instant Jessica realized that she was far from home-free. She was now apparently a hostage, and at the whim of what seemed to be a madman.
Jessica was getting some of her courage back. She took a moment to collect her thoughts and then responded in an angry and bitter tone. "First off I don't know who this Mr. Black person is, but that man back there was helping me get back home! I'd be sleeping in a hotel room by now waiting for my parents to show up if you hadn't come along!" She calmed down a bit. "Look, I don't know who you are, or what you think you're doing, but if you'll just pull over I'll forget I ever saw you. Okay?" He just shook his head and kept on driving. As they stopped at a red light he turned to talk to her again, but Jessica had other plans. She quickly swung her body so that her back was to the door. Just as his head was turning to look at her, Jessica kicked both of her feet at his head. The man was able to get one hand up which stopped her left foot, the right connected with his forehead. At the same time she was feeling for the handle of the car door, and as he reacted to the impact she opened the door and tried to climb out. He had held on to her left leg though, and before she could get out the man roughly hauled her back inside. Meanwhile the light turned green just in time for him to slam on the gas, thereby closing the door with the sudden forward jolt of the car.
"That was very stupid Jessie! I'm trying to help you. If you'll just liste..."
"How did you know my name?" Jessica shouted. "Who the fuck are you anyway, and why are you kidnapping me?"
"I'm not kidnapping you."
"Oh really? Then what do you call this then, a bad pick-up line?"
He sighed heavily, and then tried to speak in a calm tone, but the hint of frustration was evident. "My name is Mark Bell. I'm the one wh..."
"You're the guy from the hotel?!?!" She was silent. Her thoughts drifted back to the room she woke up in, and of the name in the guest book. Then she recalled the name in the police report and decided to listen to hear what the man had to say.
"That's right now if you'll listen I can explain what's happening, okay?" He took her silence as a yes. "Like I said before, that man who you think was going to help you was just telling you what you wanted to hear so that he could bring you to a place called The Spire."
At the mention of that name her eyes widened a bit. "How did you know what hotel I was supposed to go to?"
Mark let out a sigh. "Just listen."
And she did. He told her about The Spire, and Its owner Mr. Black. Then came Mr. Watch's involvement. "The police have been owned by Black since the moment he arrived." Jessica listened to the story of how Mark had been a prisoner inside The Spire, and used as a generator for Mr. Black's personal magic power supply. It all sounded so far fetched, but so did her current situation, so the girl listened to his story. Mark parked the car in a warehouse, what he called a "safe-house", and he went on to relate how a wizard named Jack Mage had freed him from The Spire, and had been training him in the use of his own abilities.
When he was finally done she was allowed to speak. "That's an interesting story, but even if I believe it's true, which I don't, why should I trust you more than Mr. Watch?"
Mark gave another heavy sigh, and said, "Let me take you to someone who can answer all of your questions, and maybe help you see what the truth really is."
"Who? That wizard guy? Buddy, I think you've seen Star Wars one too many times."
"What's Star Wars?"
She was confused by his ignorance of the movie, but that did not seem important at the time. "Forget it. Where is this guy anyway?"
"He's very close actually. He owns a nightclub not far from here. It's called The Dregs."
The line at the door seemed obscenely long, and it appeared to Jessica that they'd have to wait for at least an hour to get in. To her surprise Mark did not head to the back of the line. Instead he walked right up to the front, right up to the intimidatingly large doorman. The doorman seemed to be well over six feet tall, and from his build it seemed as though he could have assumed the role of an entire offensive line for a football team. His dark blue suit seemed to barely fit his massive figure. What Jessica later learned, and what she already gathered was that the man standing watch over the front door was without a doubt the toughest guy in all of Morgan City. He was both an irresistible force, and an immovable object rolled into one. But that is not what Jessica noticed first most about this man. The fact that he was someone who could probably squash her with one finger was a fact that was evident. The thing that caught Jessica's attention was that the hulk of a man was wearing a pink hat. That is correct. The man was wearing a pink bowler on his head. It seemed so out of place that when Mark called her over she did not hear him. After a moment she realized that he was signaling her and made her way over to the front of the line.
As she approached Mark said to her, "Jessie, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. His name's Floyd. He's the guy that keeps out the riffraff."
"Oh, your name is Floyd, I was wondering about that hat." Jessica replied with a chuckle, and immediately wished that she hadn't because the two of them gave her a look that said that they didn't have a clue what she was talking about.
"Anyway," Mark said to break the uncomfortable silence that had been created. "We're gonna' go find Jack now."
And with that Mark and Jessica passed through the open door. There was a set of ten stairs that went down, at the end of which were black streamers which hung from the ceiling. While the streamers blocked any view of what was going on inside, Jessica could hear the music blasting, and the people inside enjoying themselves. Mark passed through them, and then so did she. As she did so the music grew in volume, and Jessica saw what was inside. There were hundreds of people dancing on the wooden dance floor. She couldn't see anything unusual about them, except the ones who were obviously heavily intoxicated. The strobe lights were flashing, the booze was flowing, and people were having a good time. The Dregs was my favorite part of the city. It was always full of life. It had all the things whith which to make a night on the town. There was a bar off to the left, and on the opposite side of the room there appeared to be a restaurant, or dining area where people could go to get away from the crowd and relax, have a conversation, or go at it until a passing waitress told them cool it. After a moment Jessica's eyes got used to the lighting, and the visual effects. Mark was scanning the crowd for Mage when finally he gave up and said, "Come on." With that he took her hand and led her across the large room to the quieter side of the club. They went up to the bar and Mark called over to the bartender. The bartender was about average height, with a trim figure, and orangish red hair that matched his thickly grown beard. He wore glasses with a silver frame, a white button down shirt with a collar, and black slacks with a black belt that had a gold buckle. He spoke with a Boston accent, and said rather loudly, and jovially, "Mark, you missed young miss James' antics for the night. Michelle got completely loaded! At about midnight she jumped on top of one of the tables and started ripping her clothes off! Did you know she wears crotchle...?" Harry paused for a second after noticing Jessica, and the disinterested look on her face.
"Hi." She said, in a tone that showed her reluctance to continue the current subject of conversation. The mood quickly changed as Mark asked for a couple of beers. Harry quickly topped off two mugs and placed them on the bar.
"Anything new happening around here Harry?" Mark asked
"Same old, same old. Only thing new going on around here are the rumors." Replied Harry.
"What rumors?" Jessica chimed in.
"Just some weird stories about weird lights in the sky." Harry said.
"Oh great, flying saucers are gonna' invade Morgan." Mark said sarcastically.
"I didn't hear anything about aliens, just strange lights in the sky." Harry paused to remember what he had been told. "I've heard a lot of people talking about these lights. From what I can gather people are seeing flashes of bright light during the day as well as the night."
"Probably just meteor showers or something." Jessica said.
"You can't see meteor showers in the daytime." Said Harry.
"Then what is it then?" Mark was getting interested.
"I don't know, but you haven't even heard the strangest part about it. There are people who also claim to have seen a flash of light that they can only describe as being dark." Harry said, with a hint of disbelief.
"That doesn't make any sense. How can light be dark?" Jessica asked.
"I don't know." replied Harry.
"Then what makes you think that the stories are true?" Jessica asked.
"Because this dark light is said to have caused people to disappear. Listen. Mark, look around you. You know the regulars as well as I do. I see maybe one or two familiar faces in here, and maybe a few more on the dance-floor. It's slowly been getting like this over the last couple of days. If I know one thing, it's the attendance habits of the people who come in here and talk to me on a regular basis. Where are they?" Mark looked around to see if Harry was right, and he was. There were very few familiar faces in the crowd. If all the people who should have been there were dancing, then they had to have been on the other side of the dance-floor. But then there were the regulars who did not dance. The ones who came to enjoy the inactivity of the quieter section of the bar were not in their usual crowds. The room that they were in should have been packed with people he'd known for years, yet he could count the number at that time on one of his hands. It all seemed very strange.
"So Harry, you seen Jack around tonight?" Mark asked, remembering why they were there in the first place.
"He's in his office. Hold on, I'll give him a ring." Harry replied. As he did so he also produced a phone from behind the bar and made the call.
"He knew!" That was all Watch could think about as he went to open the door. It was something that had never occurred to the man in the brown suit. His master had known about what had taken place and was merely waiting for him to decide to face up to his own carelessness. With this in mind Watch entered the room that he had so many times before, and threw himself on the floor before Black to beg for forgiveness.
"Get off your knees John. It's not your style to grovel." Black said with a sarcastic tone. Watch did as he was told and stood up. Fear was practically written on his forehead.
"Don't apologize John. I should have expected this to happen. Stupidity is one of your more prevailing qualities. Not only did you fail to bring me the girl, but you also allowed her to fall into the hands of the very people that can, and will use her against me."
"Don't make excuses. I saw what happened. You allowed him to sneak up on you. Maybe you're getting too old for this kind of work. We'll see, in time. I've decided to take charge of the matter myself. I have located her. She is currently in the nightclub called The Dregs, and I have decided to send in some of my special helpers. I shall lead them into battle myself, and my enemies shall be made to bow before me."
"You shall have your police force positioned outside to arrest anyone who tries to leave. Is that understood?"
"Good. Now get out of my sight, and get your men ready."
"Yes sir." And with that Watch headed for the door. Mr. Black sat there staring at the far wall.
"John." Black said sternly. Watch stopped dead in his tracks and turned. Black was still staring at the wall.
"It would be in your best interest not to fail me again."
"Yes sir." Watch departed the room, leaving Black to prepare for the battle to come. Mentally, Black felt as ready as he'd ever be. As always he was confident that his power was supreme, but he also knew that time was running short. He began to ponder his declining situation, and found only uncertainty.
Harry was just getting off the phone when he looked over and asked her what she wanted to drink.
"Can I get my usual please?" She replied casually. Mark turned around and a pleasant smile came over her face just before he could see her.
"Hi Katie, what are you up to tonight?" Mark said half-heartedly.
"Oh, the usual. So who's your new playmate?" She said, gesturing towards Jessica who was sipping her beer.
"Oh, forgive me." Mark burst out, and then introduced the two ladies. "Jessica's from... out of town."
Katie eyed the both of them as she shook Jessica's hand. It was obvious that Jessica was not comfortable with the surroundings. It seemed as though there was something tugging at her brain. Something that made her very uncomfortable. Kate tried to figure out the relationship between Mark and Jessica. There did not seem to be any moves being made, but it was obvious to Kate that by their body language neither one of them seemed to have any qualms about pushing their association further. She tried to figure out why they had not done so yet. Her thoughts on the matter were put on hold as Harry handed her a "Bloody Mary". She thanked him and took a sip.
"So where's Jack?" Mark asked.
"Huh?" Harry had been distracted by Kate's arrival so it took him a moment to remember the phone-call. "He's on his way. Said he had something to take care of, and that you two should grab a booth and wait for him."
"Mind if I join you two for a while?" Kate asked. She was still determined to find out what was going on between the two of them.
"Be my guest." Mark said, with a slight quiver in his voice. He did not want to involve Kate in the meeting between Jessica and Mage, but he figured that she would get the message when Mage arrived at the table. They ordered two more drinks and then made their way over to one of the empty booths by the wall to sit down. Mark and Jessica sat on one side, and Kate on the other. Kate noticed that Jessica had begun to relax a little more.
"So how did the two of you meet?" Kate asked. She wanted to figure out just what the situation was.
"Oh..um..er." They replied simultaneously. It was a question that they had not planned to answer.
"We met downtown." Mark said, hoping that Kate would not see through his white lie. "We bumped into each other, and seemed to hit it right off." Kate could tell that Mark was lying by the way his eye twitched when he had talked. It was something she had been able to pick up on since the first time they had met. She was about to continue her interrogation when Jack Mage arrived.
The four men standing in front of Mr. Black had been good friends at an early age. That friendship and loyalty had been there right up until the end, right up until Mr. Black decided to take away their humanity. After that, all they felt the need to do was serve their master. Their loyalties resided only with him, and it seemed doubtful that the word friendship had any meaning to them at all. Black called upon them only when he needed something done that required their unwavering ability to carry out whatever task he set before them, no matter how viscous the task seemed. This was such an occasion. They were his most trustworthy minions. It had been a long time since he had called upon them, but it had become obvious to Mr. Black that time was too precious to waste. So he would let loose his four slaves to ride into battle. He would let loose his Four Horsemen, and they would crush his enemies, and bring order back to his empire. Mr. Black looked at the four of them, and smiled as he said, "You know what to do?"
"Yes master." They all replied simultaneously.
Black waved his hand over the wall as he had done many times before, and the wall disappeared. The five of them began to float off the ground, and then out the open space where the wall had been. A battle was coming. The men floated towards the battlefield with purpose and resolve. They floated over the city, and down towards The Dregs.
"So why are you dressed like it's a lazy Sunday, and you don't feel like going out of the house?" Jessica asked in a mocking tone.
"I do live here, but I can assure you that I am not lazy. But I don't think that is one of the many questions that you wanted to ask me." said Mage. Then he looked over at Kate and said, "Katie, if you don't mind, I'd like to have a few words alone with these two." Kate knew not to argue, so she said goodbye, and walked back to the bar. Mage's insistence that she leave the table had only served to fuel her curiosity on the matter. She tried to think of just what Jessica's questions could be, and as they talked she tried without success to read their lips in an effort to figure out just what was going on. There were too many questions in her mind to keep her curiosity at bay.
Jessica looked at the man who was sitting across from her. His hair was short, blond, and well kept. His blue eyes seemed like an ocean that was so deep that one could only imagine what was at the bottom. They seemed hypnotic in a way that made her feel slightly unnerved at the calm they induced. While Jessica was still contemplating his outfit he began to speak, and everything else was put into the background. All that remained was the steady sound of his voice that let loose a story too unreal to believe, yet too plausible to ignore. "Jessica, you are not of this world. Some power that we do not yet understand brought you here from your own world and dropped you here."
"Okay, thanks for all your help guys but..." Jessica rose from her seat as she made the mocking comments. She was cut off by Mage's reasoning.
"Haven't you wondered why people don't know things they should; such as events or people? Do the people here act or dress differently from what you perceive to be normal?" Mage could tell that his words were getting through to her. She sat back down and let him continue. He had reminded her of the peculiarities that she had noticed such as the couple in the hallway at the hotel, and Mark's ignorance of "Star Wars."
"Let me start at the beginning. Since the dawn of man there has always been Mr. Black. He is an evil, twisted creature that seeks nothing short of the enslavement of all who dwell here. There are very few people who know this since he has always kept his alter ego meticulously well hidden. Most people believe that he is the son and grandson of wealthy businessmen. In reality it has always been him. The children were made up, and all the records that pertained to them were false. His power keeps him alive indefinitely."
"But how is that possible?"
"Well, what I know is that his power comes from a thing called Darklight. It is what feeds the energies that allow him to use his magic, and it emanates from The Spire. That is what keeps him alive, and allows him to keep this city under control. His only problem is that Black cannot control the amount of energy that seeps out. He needs something to keep it in check, otherwise that power would break out and consume him. It is the only thing that I know of that can kill him."
"So he can die?"
"In theory, yes. But he has always been very careful when it comes to the Darklight. He never comes in direct contact with the source. That means he needs to find someone born with the ability to use magic, and connect that person to a machine which he calls a Pullson Siphon. It transmits the power from whoever is unlucky enough to be enslaved, and into himself. Of course once this information was known to me I immediately set out to free whoever it was, and destroy the darkness forever. That is how I found Mark. You see he was the inhabitant at the time." Jessica glanced over towards the young man with a slightly shocked expression. She then turned back towards Mage with an even greater need to hear him out. "I could see that the machine was causing him great pain. So I hastily began the process of freeing him."
Jessica looked back at Mark and asked, "How long were you trapped there?"
Mark could see the cynical look in her eyes, and tried to avoid yelling at her for it. "I don't know. I have memory gaps that were probably caused by the machine."
"If I may continue?" Mage asked. Jessica nodded, and Mage went on. "So as I was saying, I attempted to free Mark. Unfortunately there were a few magical safeguards that I had not counted on. In the end, Mark was free, but my powers were depleted greatly. Ever since then I have been trying to regain my power, as well as teach Mark to use his. And ever since then, Black has been obsessed with regaining control of the boy, and destroying me I might add."
"Okay, let me get this straight. You guys are some kind of wizards or something? Is that what you dragged me all the way out here to tell me?" Jessica said, surprised that they'd think that anyone would be so gullible as to believe their far fetched story.
"Words will not convince you, and neither will reason." Mage said.
"I'm willing to listen to reason, not a fairy-tale!" She retorted angrily.
"Very well." said Mage. And with those words he produced a small glass bowl from seemingly nowhere. It was full of water, and there was something at the bottom. Jessica leaned over to see what it was, and found that it was her necklace, with her grandmother's ring attached. She quickly reached in the bowl to grab it, but she could not touch it, as though it weren't even there.
"I'm not amused by your parlor tricks with mirrors!"
Mage mumbled a few words, and the water in the bowl began to glow. He waved his hand over it, and the necklace rose from the bottom. It rose out of the bowl and hung in the air before Jessica. All the while it was surrounded by a light that seemed to hold it a foot off of the table. "Now try." Mage said. Jessica slowly reached out her right hand and took hold of the necklace. She stared at the object in her hand as if it were a ghost. The light faded away, and Jessica sat there stunned. She looked around the bar, but it appeared as though nobody else had seen what had happened except for the three of them. She caught the gaze of Kate, who had been watching the whole time. Kate waved and then turned to talk to Harry nonchalantly. Then Mage began speaking again, as if what had happened was not as amazing as Jessica had found it to be. She listened to every word very carefully.
"The boy and myself have been hiding out. Black would not dare to attack a place so public. It would draw far too much attention to himself. He likes to keep a low profile so as to keep up the image that he is a good citizen of our fair city. Lately though, he has become more brazen when it comes to the public. Something recently arrived that has him in a frenzy. I was meditating on the roof a few nights ago when it first appeared. There was a flash of light in the sky that should not have happened. There was nothing in the world that could have caused it. Nothing in this world anyway. Not knowing what it was, I sent Mark to investigate the phenomenon. What he found, was you. You were lying unconscious in an alley."
"But how did I get there?" Jessica asked insistently.
"I do not know, but Mr. Black must have noticed it too because the police were there almost at the same time that Mark arrived. Mark had to cast a spell of invisibility over the two of you in order to escape. I felt it would be best to hide you in the hotel room until I could figure out how to bring you here safely. So Mark carried you inside, while making everyone around think that you were walking. He then cast a sleep spell over you that he intended to take off as soon as he had returned with my instructions. Unfortunately, somehow you woke up before anything was decided."
Jessica waited until she felt that he was finished, and then she held up the necklace and asked Mage something which he had not yet answered. "How did you get this?"
"Do not ask something that you are not fully prepared to know the answer to." Mage replied.
"What do you mean? I want to know." Jessica was confused by his reluctance to answer.
"If you really want to know then there are a few things that you must be willing to do." He paused as she nodded her head to say yes. "The first is to trust me. Can you do that?" Again she nodded. "The second is to forget everything that you know to be possible, and come to accept the word impossible as something that does not exist. Given the look in your eyes I can tell that you are already on your way to doing that already." Jessica blushed a bit because she realized that she had been staring at Mage ever since he had used his magic. "The third and final thing that you must do is prepare yourself mentally for things that you may not want to hear. Now don't interrupt. Just listen. I did not acquire that ring from you, or Mark. I found it inside what I call, the mirror maze. To know the answer you seek, you and Mark will have to enter that maze. There, you shall be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally. More so than you ever have, and perhaps ever will. Whatever brought you here resides in the realm of mirrors which exists in between all worlds, and realities. It is a connecting realm which binds everything with time and space, yet keeps them separate. It is a very dangerous place that you will enter, and enter it you must. For there you will find your answers, there you shall find a way to stop Black forever, and perhaps find your way home."
"What if I don't want to go? What if I'm too afraid of what I find?" Jessica said. She was becoming hesitant. Mage's warnings were a bit unnerving, to say the least.
"If you choose to go, then Mark shall aid you in your quest inside the maze, while I hold the portal open from the outside. If you choose not to go, then Black will eventually come for you. He will come for us all, if for no other reason than his control over the Darklight is almost gone. The rumors of the disappearances are true. The Darklight has been sweeping people away in an attempt to feed it's own hunger. It had formed a sort of bond with Mark while he was trapped inside The Spire. It may be stopped unless it has him again, or it consumes Black. If neither of these conditions are met then it shall destroy everything and everyone in this world in the process of finding its prey."
"What happens to the people? Where do they go?" Jessica asked in a timid voice.
"That is a question that I cannot answer. All I know is that..." Mage was suddenly interrupted by a large explosion. The three of them looked towards where the sound had come from, as did all the other people in The Dregs. There was a cloud of smoke, and dust in the air. Through the haze floated five figures clad in black.
"Who the fuck are they?" Jessica asked. She had been almost completely paralyzed with fear.
"It's him!" Mark said with a slight, but noticeable quiver in his voice. "It's Mr. Black!"
"He's not alone either." Mage interjected. "Time to go people, the Four Horsemen have arrived!"
It began when the man in the gray T-shirt reached out his right hand towards the fear-stricken crowd, and a burst of Darklight leapt from his fingertips. The beam collided with a blonde woman in a tight leather blue dress. The instant it hit her, she cried out in pain. That cry turned into a scream of unparalleled agony as her body seemed to fold in on itself. It was as if her stomach had become a vacuum, and it was sucking the rest of her inward. First, she shriveled up until her skin became merely an outlining of her skeleton, and her face became as pale as that of a ghost. Then, her skin peeled off, and all that could be seen was the skeleton, covered in blood. Finally what was left of her crumpled to the ground in a heap. The crowd quieted out of shock, amazement, and terror. The people had no idea what to do, or what was to come next. All they knew was that they did not want to die that night. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they were about to do. The four younger men floated towards the crowd slowly, all the while they slowly raised their hands out towards the patrons of The Dregs. The people began to plea, scream, and run for their lives. Their words were wasted on seemingly deaf ears, and their efforts to run useless. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. One by one the crowd began to fall to the ground, dead.
A few tried to fend off their attackers, but it was in vain. One individual in particular came close to escaping when he tried to get to the hole in the wall that had been created by the initial blast. It was the gas station attendant that had given Jessica directions to the Police Precinct. He was scrambling desperately as he avoided both the killers, and the terrified mob that was scattering in all directions. The man fell twice in his attempt to escape. The first time, he fell over a young woman who had tripped while trying to run in high heels. The girl screamed as he fell on top of her, then the man then yelled at her for not getting out of the way. He then sprinted off towards the hole in the wall, only to be met by the man in the black T-shirt. The gas station attendant skidded to a halt as the man before him floated to the ground, and reached out his hand. Then a bust of Darklight leapt from the man's fingertips, and that is when the garage attendant fell for the second, and final time. There was no escaping from The Dregs.
The only option the poor souls had was to pick which way they would die, in other words, which of the attackers would be allowed to murder them. Those that fell by the hand of the man in the green seemed to slowly rot where they stood, their bodies swelled with massive sores filled with puss. The man in red left his victims in piles of severed body parts. His beam of Darklight seemed to hold his victims in place as it carved them up at the same time. The least painful deaths were experienced by those that fell to the pale man in the black T- shirt. His victims barely screamed, and fell to the ground with no visible injuries. It was as though their life essence had been torn from their bodies. All that was left was an empty shell. In the end, there were no survivors.
None were spared the wrath that had been brought down upon the unsuspecting nightclub's patrons. None, except those that had snuck out before the slaughter. Mr. Black had been surveying the crowd for his prize before the killing had started. They had not been on the dance-floor, so while his minions did his dirty-work, the dark specter had floated into the side-bar, the only place where they could have been hiding. There, he had discovered a door behind the bar. With a sinister grin on his face he waved his hand, and nothing happened. The smile left his face as he attempted his spell again, and again it had failed. Black examined the door and realized that there were protection spells in place around that entire section of the club. The spells cast were what had been keeping him from finding Mark. They were very powerful spells too. Black wondered who was powerful enough to keep him out of anything. Who could challenge his power in any way? The thoughts left his mind as he prepared to cast his own spells, and gain entrance to whatever lay behind the door.
They had been sitting in the sidebar when Jessica had heard the thunderous blast which had ripped apart one of the walls of The Dregs. Then they arrived. Five men she had never seen before, and prayed that she would never meet again. She watched as they floated through the air, and into the club. Then she watched them butcher a helpless crowd. Mage had quickly sized up the situation and was telling the people in the sidebar to follow him through a small door that was behind the bar. Jessica could not remember if it had been there before. She did not believe so, but then, it was getting difficult to know what was real, and what was not. Ever since she had woken up in the hotel room it seemed as though the laws of reality had taken a vacation. She moved quickly towards the door, all the while her eyes remained on the crowd. She finally looked away from the crowd and towards the door. Harry was telling people to hurry up. Jessica did not know if they hurried because of the scene in the other room, or because Harry was holding an AK-47. It did not matter. Everyone who was on that side of the night club began to hop over the counter, and rush through the door. Jessica took their example to heart and moved quickly over the top of the bar. Just before she passed through the door, Jessica took one more glance at the people who were dying. She watched them as they died, listened to their cries for mercy, and began to wonder how anything like the scene before her could possibly happen.
Jessica was about to look away when she noticed something. The old man from in front of the police precinct was sitting in the middle of the room. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to him. The attackers passed by him without even acknowledging the fact that he was there. Likewise, he did not seem to acknowledge what was going on around him. In a room where hundreds of people were being slaughtered like cattle, he just sat there, playing his guitar. Bodies were strewn everywhere, people were dying right before his very eyes, and he just sat there, singing lyrics that were sung too softly for her to hear. Harry saw that Jessica was not moving and pushed her through the doorway. She stuck her head out one last time to try and tell the man to run, hide, to do anything. But when she looked, he was gone. He had vanished again. And with that, Jessica had passed through the doorway, and into the dimly lit room. She did not want to think about that scene anymore. At that point all she wanted to do was wake up in her bed, in Bare County. She wanted all of it to be a dream, but it was all too real for her to believe that it was a dream. With that thought in mind she walked over to an empty corner of the room, curled up into a ball, and waited for whatever would happen next.
Mark saw the look on Jessica's face and decided to walk over to her. When he had been sent to rescue her from Mr. Watch, Mark did not believe her to be worth all the trouble. She had seemed to be just another girl who'd probably break down and cry if one of her nails broke. In fact he had arrived at the Precinct just in time to witness her break down and cry by the front desk. The scene had confirmed his suspicions about her in his mind. Still, Mark had felt sorry for leaving her at the hotel alone. But there was nothing that he could do. Mage had told him to leave her, that there was more important work to be done. So he had cast the sleeping spell, and then left her. When it turned out that he had to find her again he had again been annoyed by the fact that she had caused him such trouble. His opinion of her did not start to change until after their escape from Mr. Watch. Jessica had shown spirit when she tried to get away from him. At the time it had enraged Mark beyond belief. But once his jaw stopped hurting he came to think of the incident as being quite comical. The girl had begun to show him that he was wrong about her. He still had his misgivings, but a small amount of curiosity about her had begun to grow.
Jessica looked up to see Mark sit down next to
her. She was still nervous around him. Trust had quickly become
something that she did not feel like giving out so easily.
Still, if she needed any more proof about the truth in Mark's
words, then the scene she had just witnessed was more than
enough. The young man sitting next to her had saved her earlier
that day, and he and Mage had gotten her to safety again. She
did not know what to do or say. It was an awkward moment when
she knew that she should say something, but the words did not
come to her. Finally she broke the silence with the words, "So
you come here often?"
Mark looked at her and saw the forced smile on her face. She was attempting to lighten the mood, if that were at all possible. He could see that Jessica had been crying recently. Her eyes were red from wiping away the tears. He asked, "Are you okay?" After asking he felt rather stupid. Of course she was not okay. Who could be after the scene that had taken place in the club. He was relieved when she was not annoyed by the question.
"I'm okay. It's just that... all those people... they..."
"It's not your fault. It's nobody's fault but those who did it. There was nothing that you could have done to save them." Mark put his hand on her shoulder, and as he did Jessica leaned her head on his arm.
"I know, but will they stop? Will Mr. Black ever stop looking for us?"
"No. No, I don't believe that he will." He felt bad in saying it, for the both of them. But that was the truth and Mark knew it. He thought about what would happen if Black were to catch them. He'd hook them up to The Spire, and make them his slaves forever. Mark remembered all too well what the experience was like. It was very painful, and the pain did not stop until Mage had set him free. From that moment forward he had vowed not to return until he had found a way to destroy Black, and most importantly free himself from fear once and for all. He wanted to be free from everyone and everything. He wanted to lead a normal life that did not involve hiding, or fighting. He wanted to be free. Truly free, forever. But how could it be done? How could they take on an army? Mark resigned himself to his fate. Black would never leave him alone, and eventually Mark would end up back in The Spire, and bound to the Pullson Siphon. And then there was Jessica to think about. She didn't do anything to deserve the fate that Black had in store for her. It wasn't even her own world, and it still wanted to destroy her. Mark stopped pondering his situation. He had noticed a change in Jessica's expression. It was one he had not seen on her since the incident in the car. It was a look of defiance, and anger.
"We can stop him!" She said.
"We'll do what Mage said, we'll go into the Mirror Maze."
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
"No. But we don't have any other choice. I
have to get out of this place. I have to go back home, to my
world. If this is the only way for that to happen, then this is
what I am going to do. Besides, we can't run from Black forever.
Eventually he'd catch us, and then we'd be better off dead."
Mark looked at her. He looked into her eyes and for the first time he realized that he was wrong about her. She seemed determined, and devoid of fear. He listened to her voice, which echoed his own thoughts. She would do what was necessary when the time came. Of that he was now sure. Now it was a matter of his own belief. It was a question of his own courage, and his own will. In the end, there really was no choice.
"Let's do it." The two of them stood up and began making their way over to Mage. With his help, they would enter the Mirror Maze, and face whatever was to come.
"You two shall enter the maze while I keep the portal between worlds open. Remember, you must find the answers you seek quickly. The stress of existing between worlds is great. If you spend too much time inside the maze, you may never make it out." Mage's words of caution hung heavily in the minds of the two youths. They were both afraid, but did not want to show it. Mage began chanting words which did not make any sense to Jessica, and that is when it happened. The entire maze began to glow brightly. It seemed to give off a light almost exactly like the light that had come from the bowl which had held the necklace. Jessica looked at Mark with concerned eyes.
"Don't worry. I'll be with you the whole way. We'll make it through this, you'll see."
Mark's words of confidence did nothing to soothe Jessica's fears. "Still", she thought, "what other choice do I have?" She responded to Mark's words with a nod. Then, they made their way towards the entrance. Both of them took a deep breath, and then they passed through the gate, and into the mirror maze.
At first it was just a regular maze. If the circumstances had been different the two adventurers might have laughed at the way their reflections were distorted. But this was a time of great severity. They both knew the risks, and neither one of them really wanted to go through with it. But what choice did they really have. So Mark and Jessica made their way through the maze slowly, and carefully. They did not know what to expect. They had no idea what could happen. The two of them had walked for a good deal of time before stopping to rest. It seemed strange that they had walked for so long, and the end was nowhere in sight. Neither was the beginning, which gave the two of them an unspoken reason to be quite nervous.
"Is there no end to this place?" Jessica asked.
"How could there be? We are at the intersection of all worlds. Everything that could possibly happen is happening here." Mark answered.
"What do you mean?" Jessica asked. The idea of multiple dimensions had never really interested her before. Things change.
"Do you dream?" Mark asked.
"Of course, everybody does."
"Imagine that every dream that you've ever had is actually taking place somewhere else. You're greatest fantasies, and you're worst nightmares are all real. They are just not real in your world. But..."
"They're real in another dimension?"
"Exactly. Think about it. How many choices does someone make in a day? How many events could have taken place differently? All of the possible outcomes take place in different dimensions. We are now in the nexus of all of those dimensions."
"So in other words, you don't know how far we have to go." Jessica made a point to seem slightly annoyed. Mark seemed so excited even though there was a good possibility that they could both die in the maze. Mark took the hint and hid his enthusiasm for adventure a bit more. They both stood up and stretched in preparation for another round of walking. Then things quickly changed, and in a bad way. A smoke cloud began to rise from the floor. Jessica heard Mark tell her to grab his hand so that they would not be separated, but when she reached out, he was not there. "Mark, where are you?"
"Jessica? You're going the wrong way. Move towards my voice. She did as he had said, but the harder she tried, the farther away he sounded. His voice became so distant that even though it seemed strained as though he were shouting, she could barely hear him. Jessica became so frightened that her replies were nothing short of screams for help. Her screams were eventually unanswered, and that is when the real terror set in. For Jessica knew that she was alone, in a strange place, and in grave danger.
There was a period of unbearable silence before the smoke cleared. After it cleared Jessica wished that it had not. That way she would not have to deal with the fact, that she was alone. Mark was nowhere in sight. For a moment she stood alone in the hallway of mirrors hoping that Mark would somehow find her. That he was really just around the corner and that together they would get through the nightmare that had been presented to them. Alas, it was not to be. She quickly came to grips with this fact, and then began trying to make her way through the maze. But which way should she go? The smoke had turned her all around, making forwards look the same as backwards. Still, all she could do was pick a direction, and so she did.
It seemed as though she had walked for hours without any inclination as to where the end might be. Frustration, as well as fear had taken a tight grip on the mind of the young woman who had been through so much before. Her world became a maze of mirrors filled with an ominous silence which kept Jessica's nerves bordering on the breaking point. Then, out of nowhere, the silence was broken. A voice was calling out to her. It was a very familiar, and very haunting voice which seemed to come from all around her. It was Jessica's own voice, or rather, the voice of her mirror image, which called upon her, again.
"Why have you come here?" The mirror asked.
Jessica summoned up what remained of her courage and said, "Who are you?"
"We are you. Why have you come here?"
"If you're me, then you should know the answer to your question."
"You want to go home. But you are already there. So we ask you again, why have you come here?"
"I'm not home, this is not where I belong."
"Why have you come here?"
Jessica was both confused by the mirror's answer, as well as frustrated by its answer. "I've come here to find out how to get back to my world. Can you help me?"
"Where is your world?"
"I don't know. Can you help me find it?"
"My home!!!" Jessica was becoming even more frustrated. The mirror image was not helping her situation at all.
"Why do you keep insisting that you are not home?"
"Because I'm not home? Why are you doing this?"
"Taunting me the way you are. All I want to do is to be able to go home."
"You are home. Why have you come here?"
Jessica finally gave up. She thought that the image was only trying to distract her from her goal, so she pressed on through the maze. But the images no longer reflected her actions. They were all unmoving, and staring at her with concerned expressions. After a while Jessica began to run, in the hopes that she could escape the staring eyes of the images. She ran as hard, and as fast as she could, paying no heed to the silent mirrors which watched her every move closely. Finally she ran out of breath, and collapsed to the floor in a heap of exhaustion. Still conscious, she looked up at a mirror that showed no distortion, and exasperatingly asked, "What do you want?!?"
The mirror did not say anything. What it did do was something that Jessica could not have possibly expected, and wished that it had not. The image changed from being her own image, to that of someone who could not possibly have been there. It was her ex-boyfriend that stood inside the mirrors. Her dead boyfriend, Nate. He looked very pale, and his clothes were slightly torn up. All at once Jessica was taken back to the moment of his death, when her mother had tried to shield her eyes from the gruesome scene. All at once the image of him lying on the ground in a heap of blood and gray matter came back to her. It permeated every part of her mind, and all she could do was stand there in a state of shock. The image of Nate spoke in a low tone, "Why have you come here? What is it that you seek?" With these word the image began to bleed like her own image had done in the hotel room. All the cuts that the boy had had reopened, and spewed blood like a waterfall. Jessica sat there and watched as her lost love bled again before her very eyes, only he did not die. How could he? He was already dead. His voice kept on asking the question "Why have you come here?" Jessica could hear nothing. She felt nothing except for the pain of the memory, and the overwhelming urge to scream in terror. That is exactly what she did. Jessica screamed so loudly that the echo could have been heard for miles, but there was nobody to hear her scream. She scrambled to her feet and ran away. The direction did not matter anymore. All that mattered to her was getting away from the image of her blood-soaked ex-boyfriend who had begun calling her name the minute that she began to run. Jessica did not want to deal with it, and who could blame her? Who could have stood before that image and ignored it? I myself had to turn away from the scene for a moment. It was only natural that Jessica could not deal with what was being forced upon her. The pain ran too deep for her to cope with whatever reality was being presented to her. The only thing that kept her from running to the other side of the universe was exhaustion. She ran until she could run no more, and then she passed out on the floor, in a puddle of her own sweat, and tears.
She awoke to silence. The mirror images had returned to being her own. They stared inquisitively at her, as if they did not understand why she had reacted the way that she had. For a long time Jessica sat on the cold floor of the maze, staring at the ground, trying to forget all that she had seen. And then, the silence was broken yet again.
"Why have you come here?"
Jessica sat up and folded herself into a ball
with her arms rapped around her legs. She began to cry, and the
tears ran down her face and onto her knees which were pressed up
against her chin. The mirrors looked at her and its expression
changed to that of concern. "Why are you crying?" It asked.
Jessica paused a moment and then in between sobs she replied, "I'm crying because I'm never gonna' get out of here."
"Why do you say that?"
"I'm lost...I'm scared...and I can't find Mark."
"You are not lost. Tell us why you have come here, and we shall take you where you wish to go."
Jessica looked up in astonishment. The words that she had heard were too good to be true, and too unexpected not to balk at. "Really?" She asked with utter disbelief.
"Yes. It is why we are here, but why have you come here?"
"Um...I came here ...I came here to find out how to get home."
"But you are home."
Jessica was about ready to give up. The mirror was not helping her, only frustrating her, and toying with her emotions. There seemed to be no way out, but then she remembered Mark, and why he was there. "I'm here to find a way to stop Mr. Black and the Darklight."
"Is that what you really want?" Asked the mirror.
Jessica thought about getting home, but it did not seem like an option at that point. "Yes that is what I want. I want to stop Mr. Black." With those words there came a sound which seemed to be thunder. It echoed throughout the maze with an eerie tone. A flash of light blinded her vision of everything for a few moments. When her eyes were finally able to open again, she could not believe what she saw. It was an orb. A glass orb that was resting on the floor in front of her. Jessica was hesitant to touch it, but when she finally did, it felt warm. It felt like a window that was directly facing the sun. Jessica stood up and was about to say something when the mirror spoke again.
"That orb will do everything that you want it to do. All you have to do, is will it to be. If you want it badly enough, it shall be so. Just imagine."
"Imagine? Imagine what? What do you mean?" Jessica's question went unanswered for the mirrors were back to normal. She thought about it for a second, and then remembered Mark. He was probably still lost in the maze as well. She decided to try and use the orb. So she began to picture him in her mind. She imagined how he would look surrounded by mirrors. At first it did not work, and Jessica got frustrated. But she tried again, and again. Each time the image in her head of Mark became more and more vivid, until finally, something happened. The ball began to glow with a tremendously bright light. It was almost too bright to look upon. A powerful wind began to pick up dust around her. Jessica shielded her eyes with her arms until the wind dissipated. Then she heard a loud crash, almost like thunder. When it was all over, she opened her eyes to see Mark sitting before her. Or rather, he was lying on the ground before her in a ball. Jessica looked on in shock as the one of them who had seemed the most in control, lay on the floor, crying, and whimpering the word, "No," over, and over again. It was a scene that she never forgot.
Black picked up a skull from the ground and studied it. He was tempted to start quoting Shakespeare but decided against it. This was a happy scene to him. Hamlet had been in a state of grief, and Mr. Black felt none. There was no guilt, or second thought paid to the innocent dead. They had been merely cattle led to the slaughter. Black wondered just who the skull had belonged to. He was about to ponder the question further when he noticed something in the center of the dance floor. There was something there that could not have been there. It was a man, sitting on the ground, playing a guitar. Black moved towards him with a curious look upon his face, but as he got closer he noticed that it was not a man, but some transparent being, like a ghost. The apparition was playing a song that Black had never heard before, and singing lyrics too softly to be heard.
"Who are you?" Black asked. When the man did not even acknowledge Black's presence it enraged the pale faced figure. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" Black was becoming very impatient. Finally he summoned forth a great deal of energy, and focused it in his right hand. He then let loose a blast which should have incinerated the ghostly being, but did not. All it did was leave a hole in the ground where it had hit, after passing through the ghost. Black stared at him with a look of astonishment. Nothing like this had ever happened to Black before. No man living, or dead had ever been able to ignore his power. That is when the ghostly figure looked up at him. It stared into Black's eyes, and Black felt as though the ghost were staring directly into his soul. Then, the ghost spoke.
"They have entered the nexus of realities. The girl has found something which may destroy you. It matters not though. You and Mage play out your power struggle all you want, but in the end, another shall prevail. There shall come one who will dominate the land, and rule all who dwell in it. He shall destroy all power but his own, and then, your war shall be over. Then, the battle shall be done." And with that, the figure disappeared before Black's eyes as if he had not been there at all. Black scanned the room for any trace of the old man, but there was none. The words spoken by the ghost weighed heavily on the mind of the immortal wizard. Black temporarily decided to put the incident out of his mind, but he could not forget. Still, he re-focused his mind on the task at hand, and then he began to attack the wall again, this time with more power, and focus than at any time he had ever used his magic. He could feel that the ghost was telling the truth. Something bad was coming. Black did not know where or when, but it would come. He would have to be ready. He would have to possess Mark, and Jessica, soon. Then he could face the new evil. Then he could stay in control.
"Yes. At least, I think we did." Jessica replied. She did not mention Mark's episode, and he was grateful for it. Mage turned his head to see the what they had retrieved. Upon seeing the orb a rather large smile crossed his face. Jessica was slightly unnerved by it because with that smile the hypnotic effect of his gaze seemed to have slightly faded away. There was something behind the smile which she could not discern, and that fact was unsettling. Jessica's thoughts drifted away from Mage's expression and back to the sound emanating from the wall. It was growing louder and more intense.
"Black is breaking through. I cannot hold him back for much longer." Mage said emphatically. And then it happened. The wall crumbled slowly before their eyes. It started at the top, and worked its way down. When it was finished, the five men who had caused such havoc and destruction entered the room. Mage backed up a bit as they floated across the space where the wall had once been. He said only one thing, "Run!" Mark and Jessica started for the door. When they got there they turned around to see that Mage had not followed them.
"Jack!" Mark call out.
"Go boy! I shall hold them here!"
"You can't beat them all! Let me stay and hel..."
"Do as I say Damn it! Our paths must now diverge! Good hunting, boy."
Mark took a long look at his teacher as Jessica pulled the young man by his arm.
"Why don't you stay Mark?" Black said in an eirie tone. He had a wide smile on his face which sent chills up the spines of the three that he was looking down upon. "Both of you should stay. You will belong to me sooner or later. Why prolong the inevitable?"
Mage looked back at the two youths and with that, they were gone, leaving Mage to fend for himself. They did not want to leave, but there was no time to argue. Mage was right. It was up to them to put a stop to Mr. Black and they could not do that if they were dead. Still, it broke Mark's heart to leave him behind. They ran about a block before they saw the police. As soon as they did, Mark cloaked them with an invisibility spell. They were almost past the blockade when they heard the sound. It was a sound that neither one of them ever forgot. It was the sound of Mage screaming in pain. It was the sound of Mage losing the unwinnable battle, and paying the price for that loss. Both Mark and Jessica could hear him scream long after they were out of earshot of The Dregs. It was embedded in their memories, and they knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
They sat in silence for a long time. Neither one knowing quite what to say. What could they say? Once they had heard Mage's scream, it had all been placed upon them. All the weight of the responsibility for what they had to do was put onto their shoulders. Neither one could sleep, nor speak. Instead they sat in the corner of the basement of the warehouse, and hugged each other close. Both fought back tears of remorse that neither one would admit existed. They had to be strong. The battle ahead had been left to them to fight. There was no one to turn to for help. However their thoughts could not focus on what they had to do, but on what had happened earlier.
"You hear about shit like this on a daily basis." Jessica said. Mark looked at her inquisitively.
"Mass-murder is not an everyday occurrence in nightclubs." He said in a stern voice.
"I know that." She said, trying to make up for the fact that her words had been phrased badly. Jessica took a moment to put together what she was trying to say and then tried again. "The newspapers report about thirty or so people being killed in some crash, or bombing. It always seemed so distant, so outside of reality. You never think that anything that horrible could possibly be real. You know? You never really think about it until it's right in your face."
"You mean it's not until we face death that we actually think about life. About how truly unfair it can be. I had a lot of friends in that place. People who meant something to me. Now their all but gone. Out of the people that I know made it out, how many did the cops grab? How many of them are probably being tortured by Black and his sadistic fucking lackeys? I lost everything tonight. So don't try to lecture to me about the fucking facts of life. Life is cold, it's cruel. In the end we have whatever happiness we were able to scrape together. I had very few good memories in my life. Most of them were made in that place. The Dregs was my home and now...Now, I have nothing. "
Jessica looked at him with sympathetic eyes. She remembered what it was like to feel like everything was lost. It was how she felt when Nate had died. She remembered dwelling on that feeling of emptiness and helplessness for so long that she had convinced herself that it was all she would ever feel. And then she had tried to end her pain in the only way she knew how. She saw all of this in Mark. All the pain and the despair had begun to take hold of him. It had begun to eat away at him the way it had eaten at her. "It wasn't your fault." She said. A tear was beginning to well up in her eye.
Mark looked at her. He looked her straight in the eye and said, "Then who's fault is it? Huh? Mage wasn't the only one with powers. I could have helped him. I could have..."
"What? Do you really think that the two of you could have taken on the five of them? If you had stayed you would be dead right now." Jessica sighed heavily out of frustration. "Mark, he gave his life so that you could carry on the fight. Because of him we can now try to end this."
"The orb. Remember? The mirror told me that it could defeat him. That it can do anything I want as long as I can imagine it."
"Can it bring back my friends?" Mark said in both a sullen, and disheartened tone.
Jessica looked down towards the floor. "I don't..." She could not think of a way to respond. And then she began to speak again. "You say that you have nothing, but you still have me. And we still have the orb. Together, and with your powers I know that we can win. If you give up now then Mage's sacrifice won't mean a thing. Black will find us eventually, but not if we can stop him first. I don't know about you, but I don't want to die. And if there is a chance that we can put an end to this, and in some way give some meaning to why those people died, then I'll be damned if I'm going to give up. Mark look at me." Mark looked up at her, and their eyes met. She put her hand on top of his and held it. He could see that she had begun to cry. She was dead serious about everything that she had said, and he knew she was right. Still, he kept silent, and listened. "I need your help to do this. We can beat him, but I need you to believe that we can. Do you?"
He paused for a moment. Her words had sparked something inside of him. It was something that he did not feel too often. It was a sense of hope. Mark put his hand on her shoulder and said, "I do. I do believe. I don't know why, but I do." Jessica smiled at his words. She had gotten through to him, and things were starting to look better. Their eyes had not strayed from each other, and for whatever reason, they began to move closer to each other. Whether it was because of all that they had been through, or something else, the two of them sat there in the corner, and kissed. It was a strong kiss that seemed to last longer than it actually did. Neither one wanted to stop. It was a moment which relieved all the built up tension and frustrations that had been growing inside both of them. It all came down to that one moment in time when it seemed as though they were the only two people in existence. That night they made love in the warehouse. It was a night that neither one would ever forget. Both the horror, and the happiness would be forever burned into their hearts and minds. But, for the moment, they were content to let thoughts about the outside world leave their minds.
"You let them get away?!?!? How could you allow this to happen Mr. Watch? I gave you a simple task, and again you have failed me!" Watch cringed before his master on the floor. His attempts to downplay his failure had done nothing to assuage the wrath of his dark lord. Watch had quickly fallen to his knees in front of Mr. Black in an effort to beg for forgiveness. He himself could not explain how Mark and Jessica had escaped the police barricade. All the others who had fled had been locked up at police headquarters. Somehow, the two most important people had managed to get away. Where they were he did not know, but it was definitely safer than where Watch was. "No matter. I shall deal with you in a moment." Black turned towards a shadowed corner of the room. Watch could only make out that there was a figure there. Someone standing in the shadows. He could not see who though. And then Black spoke to it. "You have done well in your service to me, so far. I could never have gained access to The Dregs without you. Now I have a new mission that requires your special talents. Find the two who eluded me at the nightclub. Bring them to me, and what you want so badly, will become yours." The figure said nothing, only nodded in agreement. Then Black waved his hand, and whoever had been there vanished without into thin air. Black once again turned towards his once favorite disciple. "At least I have some in my employ that can be trusted to carry out their orders." Watch was about to speak on his own behalf, but Black raised a hand in a gesture which beckoned silence. "It is time that I taught you a lesson Mr. Watch! One that you will never forget! Too long have you been given a cozy position of power. It is time that you re-earned your way back up the ranks. Don't worry though, I'll give you all the tools that you will need to get back in my good graces. Of course there is a price for the gift I am about to give you. Nothing big, really. In the end I have no doubt that you will thank me." Black raised his hands straight up into the air, and looked upward. He closed his eyes, and was about to begin the spell, when a moment of pause came over him. The pale faced figure lowered his head for a moment in order to look at Mr. Watch one last time. "Oh John, one more thing. This may sting a bit."
"No master! Please!!" But Mr. Watch's words were wasted. Black raised his head back up, and said a few incantations. Then it began. Watch doubled over in pain. For a moment he thought that his whole body was on fire, but then the pain began to subside. Watch thought for a moment that it was all over, and that Black had only meant to scare him. Watch was definitely scared out of his wits, but his punishment had only just begun. There was a sound. It sounded like water dripping onto the rug. Watch looked all around to see what it was, and that is when all his fears were made to look like pleasant dreams. The dripping was not coming from the ceiling, or from any other source, other than Watch himself. Mr. Watch looked down at himself in horror as he saw what was happening. His skin was melting off. The dripping sound was that of the melted skin hitting the floor. His screams were not those of pain for all of the nerves in his skin had been burnt away by the first wave of whatever curse had been cast upon him. Watch screamed out of shock and terror. What else does one do when they realize that their skin is melting off. Not only that, but the end result did not lead to death. That would have been far too kind. Instead it left him as a living skeleton; able to walk, and talk. He was also given immense magical power which allowed him to live forever. But then, he would have to live out his eternal life as a nightmarish figure that none could behold without feeling a barrage of terror. This was the reason for his screams. From that point on Mr. Watch was no longer the chief of police. He became a specter that walked in a dark cloak. He became a being that brought death to whatever he touched. In essence, he became death itself, and Black never let him forget it. Neither would anyone else. And as all this played out in the mind of the man who had once been a man, Mr. Black watched as his slave writhed in mental anguish. And as Black watched, he could not help but laugh.
"Mark, you young rapscallion. And here I thought you two were just friends." Said Harry. The three visitors had unmistakable grins on their faces as they watched Mark and Jessica quickly get dressed under the covers. After a few brief uncomfortable moments, they all sat down to discuss exactly what had happened after the massacre at The Dregs.
Floyd had been outside doing his job as the doorman. He had been arrested just before the real attack had taken place. "It was business as usual. I'd let in a few people, then tell a few to get lost. Nothing strange, you know? Then all of a sudden there are about a hundred fucking cops all around. They started arresting people who were going in, and everybody in line too. So I walked over to that police chief, what's his name...?"
"Watch." Jessica blurted out.
"Yeah. Yeah Watch. Anyway I walked up to him to ask him what was up, and the fucking guy has a couple of flatfeet arrest me. Next thing I know I'm in prison being interrogated."
"What did they ask you?" Mark asked. He was very curious as to why any of them had been let go. It seemed like the best way to get at him would be through his friends. Black hadn't done it. Black did not make mistakes.
"He was asking me about you and miss Jessica. What was I gonna' tell them. I'm the fucking doorman. I work for you and Mage. I didn't know where any of you were, and if I did, I sure as hell wasn't gonna tell that fucking pinko piece of shit. The two of you done good by me over the years. Ain't nobody gonna make me betray that."
"Thanks Floyd." Mark said with a grin on his face.
"Don't mention it kid. "Floyd replied. "Oh yeah that reminds me. Where is that crazy magician anyway?" Mark and Jessica looked at each other, and then back at Floyd. "No." Floyd said solemnly. "They got him too?"
"I'm afraid so." Replied Jessica. After a moment of mournful silence Jessica spoke to try and get to a more uplifting topic. "So what happened to you two?" She said, looking at Harry and Jessica. "When we got back you were gone."
Kate was about to start talking when Harry jumped right in and related his side of the story. "Mage made us a doorway after you two had gone in the other way. We ran as fast as we could but the cops got us too. It was no use running now that I think about it. The place was surrounded. Anyway. The cops took us downtown and separated us. I actually talked to that sick fuck Black. Can you believe he had the gall to try and get me to become his fucking spy? When I said no they took me into a room and started in on me. I think the guy that interrogated me was a fucking fag. He kept putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me he'd make it easier for me if I talked. Personally I think he'd of taken it easier on me if I'd bent over and yanked down my fucking pants. But that's just my point of view."
"Okaaay." Jessica said with a slightly nauseated tone. She quickly turned to Kate for her story. "It was just like Harry said up until they separated us. They asked me about you two, and I didn't know anything.
"So how did you all get out?" Mark asked.
"After the interrogations they put us all in one room, kind of like a lounge area." Harry said. "It was really weird. Not the kind of thing that they'd usually do. Then a cop came in the room and said we were free to go. So we left. But don't worry, I made sure we lost any tail they might have had on us before coming here. We're safe here, for now."
They sat in silence for a few moments. Mark had been watching Floyd as he got angrier and angrier by the minute. Finally Floyd blurted out, "I say we march down to the top of The Spire and kick Mr. Black's ass all the way down to the fucking basement."
"An appealing thought," Kate interjected " but just how do you intend to get by all of that security? Not to mention the fact that Black could probably incinerate us all without breaking a sweat."
"Security smeshmurity." Harry said. "I can get us past any man-made system they got in there. With the gadgets I got stashed in this place it wouldn't be a problem."
"And as far as the magic part of it goes, I got that covered." Mark said.
"I can't believe what I am hearing." Kate said exasperatingly. "Come on guys. I know your pissed. I am too. I lost a lot of good friends in The Dregs. But that doesn't mean you have to throw your lives away."
"Who says we're throwing our lives away?" Floyd said. "I say we got a damn good chance of getting some pay-back. I'm in."
"Me too." Harry said.
"And me." Mark chimed in.
"Jessica, "Kate pleaded. "You seem like somebody who hasn't lost her head, and wants to keep it on her shoulders. Help me get these guys to reconsider this insanity."
"Why should I? I say we end this, once and for all. We can't run forever. Eventually we are going to have to fight it out, or die trying. I say we do it on our terms, not Black's. Let's take the fight to him. I'm in too." Jessica looked at Kate with an expression that showed just how determined she was to see the fight to the end. Kate looked around the room for a sign that at least one of them could be convinced that what they were planning to do was suicidal. She saw no such sign. In the end it came down to a choice of doing what she truly wanted to do, or doing what she felt she had to do.
"You're all nuts. You do realize that, right?" Kate breathed a heavy sigh. "Okay, what's the plan?"
"Okay," Mark said. "You all know the plan. Harry?"
"I enter through the basement and make my way over to the main power grid. From there I'll knock out the electronic security system and give us a free access to the building. It shouldn't take more than five, maybe ten minutes tops. Then we rendezvous at the freight elevator."
"I go in through the back door after Harry radios in that he's done his part. Then I'll take down all the rent-a-cops on the main floor. From there I'll secure the elevator and wait for the rest of you to show up."
"Kate and Jessica?"
"Jessica and I enter through the front door pretending that my car broke down. We distract the guards long enough for Floyd to do his thing, and then we meet you all at the elevator."
"That leaves my part. While Harry does his thing, I'll concentrate on locating the magical defenses. If I can knock them down without alerting Black then I will. If not, then at least we'll know what areas of the building to avoid. Once the elevator is secure we all get in and make our way up to the third story from the penthouse. From there we walk up, carefully. Once we're up there, God willing, we go after Black, and end this once and for all. Our odds of success are not the best. I kid you not. This is going to be extremely risky, so if any of you want to back out..."
"We're with you kid." Floyd said. "You just knock down those magical walls brick by brick, we'll take care of the rest."
And with that they all went off to do their part, leaving Mark to do his. But before he could begin his spells he was interrupted by a strange man who walked by him. The man was holding a guitar as he walked, and he was singing lyrics too softly to be heard. Mark began again, but was again interrupted when the man spoke. "Nice night for a brawl, eh?"
"Never give up. They may call it being stubborn, but keep up your persistance."
"What the hell are you talking about old man? Who the fuck are you?" Mark was growing angry. The man's word were both disturbing and confusing. How could he know what was happening, and even if he did, what the heck did he mean by saying not to give up? Give up what? In all likely-hood the man was just some nut out for a walk. In fact he was about to accuse the man of just that when the old man disappeared right before his eyes. Mark blinked. Then he wiped his eyes. Had the man been there at all? Was it all an illusion created by stress and lack of sleep? Mark would have to leave those questions for later. He had a mission to accomplish, and nothing could stand in his way.
Everything went according to plan, or so they were led to believe. It seemed as though all the security systems had been knocked out, and all the magical defenses had been laid to waste. It seemed that the first floor had been taken from the enemy without a hitch, and that their passage to the top had been secured. Mark believed that everything was fine when he met the others at the elevator. The only thing that seemed out of place was the blood on Floyd's hands, but that was to be expected considering his role, and his state of mind. They all had taken the elevator to the third story from the penthouse, and then made their way up the stairs. But that is when everything went very, very wrong.
They were a few feet from the top when it happened. The alarm went off, and the guards came running up the stairs with shotguns. Harry and Floyd began shooting at the guards in an effort to keep them at bay. "Get going. We'll hold them off here." Harry said. Mark knew that Harry was right, but he couldn't abandon a friend, not again. He turned towards the guards and began chanting. A small, but encompassing hail storm appeared over the heads of the guards. It was so intense that they fled down the stairs, screaming in agony. That is when the Horsemen appeared out of nowhere. They quickly grabbed Jessica, and Mark watched in horror as they then faded into the walls with her, and out of sight. His lack of concentration caused the hail storm to dissipate, and with its disappearance the guards returned. Kate ran to the penthouse door in an effort to flee. The three remaining members of the group followed in suit, firing at the guards as they went through the door. One by one they entered the top floor of The Spire. And as Mark passed though the door he looked to his left to see Kate, standing next to Mr. Black. Black had a knife to her throat.
"It's time to give up Mark. You belong to me, always have, always will. Do not try your spells on me, youth. I am far more powerful than you could possibly dream. Your guns are useless, and your powers are nothing compared to mine. I will give you one choice in the matter though. Give up now, and your friends will live."
"Mark... I'm sorry..." Kate whimpered. Mark looked at Kate as the tears ran down her eyes. Then he looked at Harry and Floyd. They looked ready to fight, but he knew it was no use. Black had won. Somehow he had known their plans all along.
"Okay Black...you win." Mark said. And that is when he saw the evil smile on Black's face gloat more than ever. Black let Kate go, and she immediately ran towards Mark. They embraced as she fell into his arms in a seemingly shocked state.
"I'm sorry Mark...."
"It's okay Katie. It just happened this way."
"I'm sorry. But if this is the only way I can have you, then so be it." And as the words left Kate's mouth Mark looked at her with pained eyes. And with those same eyes he watched as she pulled a stun-gun out of her backpack, and then ...darkness.
"Jessica, is that you over there?" It was Mark's voice. It sounded like he was straining to talk as if he were in pain. It seemed to Jessica that his voice was coming from directly behind her.
"Yes." She said. "Mark, where are you? Where are we?"
"I'm sorry... I failed you."
"What do you mean Mark? Where are we? What happened?"
"They got us. Kate betrayed us to Black. That's why the three of them were let go. Harry and Floyd wouldn't betray me... so Black used Kate to get to me...to us. Right now Harry and Floyd are probably being tortured." Mark's words sunk in deep. Jessica realized then what the machine was. It was the Pullson Siphon. Both she and Mark were tied to it. Mark was already being tortured by it's maniacal energies, and soon, she would be too. This is one of the parts of the story that I regret. It was painful for me to watch them suffer. And as Mark whimpered the words "I'm sorry," and Jessica lowered her head in despair, I loweed my head as well. Her hopes for getting home had been shattered. Her heart had been ripped apart by this realization, and all that seemed left to do was wait until the physical torment began.
"Hello my young guests. Are you enjoying my hospitality?" The voice was cold, and its owner even colder still. Its sound sent chills up the spines of the two captives who could do nothing to escape his eerie presence. Mr. Black walked slowly over to Mark and chuckled as he watched his prisoner squirm. "You never should have left me. You should know by now that your place in the universe is right here. You are mine Mark, in body as well as spirit. "
"Fuck you... you twisted son of a.... bitch." Mark's defiance brought only a smile to his tormentor's face.
"Know this, you will never know freedom again. From this point on you will do nothing but endure the pain brought on by the Pullson Siphon. In time maybe your heart will be at ease with the fact that there is no hope of escape. In the end, I always win. That is a fact that is all too evident, is it not?" Mark did not reply. He had no more words to fight with, for despair had set in. All he could do was turn his head away from Mr. Black's gaze, and pray for death. Black saw that he had won the battle of words, and took pleasure in Mark's suffering, but there was another captive to attend to. He walked around to the other side of the machine and looked at Jessica with a fiendish grin on his face. She said nothing. She did not wish to give him the satisfaction. He took her silence as a sign that she too had given up, and walked towards one of the many consoles of the Pullson Siphon. Black punched a few buttons, and then looked back at her as he pulled a large gray switch. The moment the switch was pulled Jessica shrieked in pain. It was like nothing she had ever had to endure before. Almost instantly tears began trickling down her face. She tried to fight them back but could not do so. The pain was too great not to acknowledge. Black listened to her whimpers of pain as though they were a symphony. He walked over to her and put his finger on her cheek in order to catch one of her teardrops.
"Do not resist girl. You have seen how much good it has done your friend Mark over there. Forget about your home, your family. Any ideas of escape that might be seeping into your brain are nothing more than pipe dreams. This is your new home, and it is the last place you will ever see. My four Horsemen are here to see to that. They shall be your keepers for the rest of your life, and I shall be your master." And with that the pale-faced figure walked away. Before leaving however, he turned back to take one last look at his captives, and laughed.
The Horsemen took positions surrounding the Pullson Siphon in a square. Nothing could enter or exit the room without their knowing about it, unless it was willed by their master, Mr. Black, or someone else more powerful than the four of them. Jessica did not know this though. All she knew was that any hope she had had of escaping had been drained by the tears she had shed. The fact that she was the only one who noticed the hooded figure standing in the corner escaped her. Jessica thought it was merely another guard sent to keep her prisoner against her will. She could not see it's face, or for that matter, anything other than the hood it wore. She did know it was someone though, for it began to speak in a strange, but vaguely familiar voice.
"Do not be frightened child, and do not acknowledge my presence other than to listen to my words. I have come here to help you and young Mark. Why is of no concern to you, my reasons are my own. Only know this, tonight you shall be free from this place, and Mr. Black shall finally know the cold touch of death."
"Jessica?" Mark whispered. "Jessica, I think something's happened!"
As Mark rambled in a bewildered state the skeletal creature made its way over to another set of switches. Before pulling them it looked at Jessica and said, "Prepare yourself."
Jessica quickly whispered to Mark for him to be quiet and listen. "Get ready Mark."
"Ready? Ready for wh...?"
"Don't ask any questions, just get ready to fight for your life! We're getting out of here!" Jessica said. And then she readied herself. But her confidence was not all there. "What can I do?" She thought. "Mark has his powers, and whatever that creature is, it's probably more capable of fighting its way out of here than me. If only I still had the orb, it might help put an end to all this. I know I can make it work again, the mirror told me so. I don't think I can do this. I... No. I won't give up, not now that we're so close. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I won't just lay down and die. These bastards have had their last laugh. We'll fight our way free, and then I'll find the orb and end this once and for all. Black and his peons have taken everything from me, and I intend to get it all back. I've got nothing left to lose."
"Flip" That was the sound that signaled freedom for the prisoners of The Spire. The room had been so quiet that to Jessica it seemed to echo for an eternity, and then she heard nothing but the sounds of battle, and the pain filled cries of the Horsemen. The two closest to her had rushed towards her the moment the shackles had been released, but before they could get to her, the hooded creature leapt in their path and knocked them back across the room with one swipe of its hand. As the creature walked towards its fallen foes, Jessica turned around to see how Mark was doing. It did not look good. One of the Horsemen was down and out, but the other one had Mark in a bad situation. They were in a power struggle, and Mark was losing. There was Darklight surrounding the Horseman's hand, and he was moving that hand closer, and closer to Mark's face. Jessica did not hesitate in the actions that she took. Instead she leapt right into the fray, and ended the struggle in the first method that came to mind. She ran full blast at the Horseman, and then she launched her right foot right into her adversary's crotch. Believe you me, that man forgot all about killing Mark after that shot. In fact, he temporarily forgot a lot. For instance, he forgot to duck when Jessica reared back her fist, and embedded it in his jaw. And as the Horseman fell to the ground unconsciously Jessica could not help but take pride in her achievement, and for the first time since leaving the warehouse, she smiled. The whole battle had only taken a few moments. The Horsemen had been caught unawares by the sudden escape of their prisoners and the appearance of the hooded creature. For a moment it seemed as though the darkly clad thing was going to finish them off, but victory was turned into a scramble for freedom when Mr. Black arrived. The creature quickly sized up the fact that the Horsemen were getting up, and decided to choose the better part of valor.
"Let's get the fuck out of here." It shouted at Mark and Jessica. They wasted no time in following his lead and headed for the door. None of them looked back to see the rage boiling in the eyes of their enemy. None of them wanted to hang around long enough to feel that rage taken out on them.
It was a battle to be fought after a moment of recovery. It was a battle that was inevitable from the start, and none of them dared to deny it. And as the three of them raced through the halls of The Spire they could not help but hear the angry voice of the man called Mr. Black. "You shall never escape from me. In the end I always win, and then your true suffering shall pour out in screams. Do you hear me? In screams."
They ran for what seemed like an eternity with no exit in sight. Jessica could not help but remember the Mirror Maze as they made their through the halls of the Spire.
"It's no use my young friends." The creature said. "We cannot escape the reach of Black's power."
"Then we make a stand here." Mark replied "Agreed?"
"Very well young Mark." It said.
"How is it that you know my name? I don't mean to seem ungrateful for the rescue, but who are you?"
"We have met before my young friend, or should I say, my old enemy. I was once a man of great influence in this city. I was held in the highest regard by city hall for the same reason that Black sought me out in the first place. I was very good at my job."
"What is your job?" Jessica asked.
"I am...or rather I used to be the chief of police for the city of Morgan."
Jessica looked at him in shock. Then she and Mark exchanged looks of disbelief. And when the man formerly known as Watch pulled back his hood, the two of them looked at him in utter terror. "Wha... wha... what happened? How...? Who did this to you?" Jessica asked, still dazed and confused.
"Who do you think? When you two somehow managed to get by my blockade at the nightclub, Black became furious. I thought that he might kill me, now... I wish he had. I once was a man of great stature. I was respected by all. Now... Now I am not even a man. I am a thing. A creature that terrifies all who look upon me. Black thought that this would motivate me to become a better servant, a better slave. He thought that I was too weak to oppose him. Well I tell you that he is wrong. I shall not stand for his abuse any longer. If I cannot make him give me back what he took, then I shall take everything from him. He will not rule this world as he so desires. I have sworn to make him pay, and pay he shall. That is why I have freed you two. That is why we are standing here now. It has come time for an end to his reign of terror. Together we shall do what separate we could not. In the end, I shall stand over his bloody corpse, and laugh, as he laughed after turning me into this... thing! Now we must prepare ourselves for the battle to come. We must prepare ourselves, for revenge!"
As the Horsemen rounded a corner, they all stopped to see two individuals standing before them in the middle of the hallway. It was Jessica and Death, standing alone and defiant before them. The Horsemen slowly moved forward without breaking their two by two formation. Their hands began to glow with the ever familiar light that shed darkness on whatever it touched. Death and Jessica stood fast as their adversaries moved closer and closer. Then, the Horsemen stopped. There was a space of about four feet in between the two opposing forces. A period of silence began that only added to the tension. It was a silence that begged to be broken. It finally was broken when the Horseman in the black T-shirt said, "Good. I see you have decided to surrender. You might as well. Your missing friend will find that out soon enough."
"Who said I was missing?" The voice came from directly behind the Horsemen. It was Mark's voice, and as they turned to see him become visible once more. That is when the fugitives made their move. Mark had been saving up his powers ever since they had begun their mad scramble through the hallways. He had used some of it to do the invisibility spell, but there was a lot left in his reserves, which he quickly summoned forth into his hands. Before the Horsemen had time to react Mark had aimed his arm at the one in the black T-shirt and fired a massive burst of energy which had sent the man over the heads of Mark and Death. The wounded Horsemen had crashed through the wall behind them, out into the night sky, and speedily down towards the streets of Morgan.
The odds had been somewhat evened up, but the
battle was not over yet. Upon seeing their comrade in arms fall,
the other three Horsemen became enraged. Each one paired off
with an opponent. The one in the green ran towards Mark and the
two of them clashed in a magical battle of ferocity. Each blow
gave off massive backlashes of energy that rocked the building
to its very foundations. Meanwhile the Horseman in red lunged
towards the Death sending the both of them tumbling down the
length of the hallway, and nearly falling out the hole created
by the flying body of the first Horseman. They struggled back
and forth teetering on the ledge.
Finally, the one in gray quickly moved towards Jessica and grabbed her by the throat. He then lifted her off the ground so that his hands became like a noose around her neck as gravity choked the life out of her. Every attempt by Jessica to breath brought only pain and dizziness as she flailed her limbs in a desperate attempt to save herself. She was about to pass out from lack of oxygen when her right knee sharply connected with her attacker's jaw. He immediately dropped her and they both fell back as he did so. The Horseman was not done though. He began moving towards her again, and again began choking her, but this time she poked him in the eye. He instinctively backed off and as he did so Jessica attacked him in a desperate attempt to stay alive. So desperate was she to stay alive that her actions were taken over by adrenaline, and rage. Jessica saw what poking him in the eye had done and decided to take it a step further. So as the Horseman turned back towards her she jumped at him and dug her thumbs into his eyes. He tried to fight her off but could not do so in time to prevent her from crushing his eyes. The moment she realized just what she had done Jessica scrambled away and watched in horror as the man screamed in pain. It was a sound that she had heard no living thing utter before, or would ever hear again. It was a sound born not only from physical pain, but increased a thousand fold with the sudden knowledge of the damage that had been done. He was blind.
Jessica shook off her shock and looked up to realize that she was not the only one to have heard the screaming. In fact they all had briefly paused to see what the noise was. This gave her allies the chance they needed to finish the fight, for the Horsemen were not given to showing pain of any kind. The fact that she had found a weak spot, a place where they could be hurt sent fear into them. This feeling of fear was so alien to them that they lost their focus on the battle at hand. Mark seized the opportunity to give his opponent an uppercut while his guard was down. It was a punch that planted the man in the wall where he hung unconsciously. Meanwhile, Death had also seized the moment of opportunity by grabbing his assailant by the neck, and snapping it like a twig. Jessica walked over to Death and asked, "Is he dead?"
"No. Beings such as the Horsemen and I do not die as easily you would. It is part of our gift, and part of our curse. That is why I survived the loss of my flesh. To destroy one of us you must obliterate us completely."
"So how are we going to do that to Black?"
"We cannot. Black is different. He and Mage are of a different breed. I know not how Black killed Mage, only that it is not something that is easy to do. Come now, we must move quickly now, before they recover."
"Jessica he's right." Mark interjected. "They'll be back. But not if we take out their master. We kill him and everything that he built will be gone for goo..." He stopped, and then both he and Jessica looked at Death.
"What? Don't you think I know? Do not waste your words on me. I shall do what I must. Yes I shall perish the moment he dies, but it shall be worth it. I shall finally be able to wipe that smirk of arrogance off of his face. And then when I'm gone, maybe I'll be able to find some peace. Now let's go. We haven't won yet." And with that, they began making their way back towards their enemy's lair.
They walked until they could hear the voices of the guards. The guards did not suspect an attack, considering the reputation of The Horsemen. So instead of being on guard they were talking and laughing about some joke they had played on the new recruits. It was all idle chit-chat that the three would-be heroes had neither the time, nor the patience to hear.
"I'll handle this." Death said in a coldly casual tone. And with that he stalked towards his prey like a lion on the hunt. They looked up to see him walking right for them. His hood was off so that the guards might see his skeletal face and hesitate, or even run. A few ran. Those that did not wished that they had for he showed no mercy. Their cries of agony pierced the hallways of the top floor. Mark watched the brutality, while Jessica hid her eyes in Mark's embrace.
"It'll be okay Jessie. We're almost there." Mark's words of encouragement did nothing to soothe her apprehension.
"What will you do when all of this is over?" She asked him. He did not answer right away. Instead he paused to ponder the question.
"I don't know. I have nowhere to go, and everyone I called friend is dead."
"You still have me." She said with a smile. They kissed, and then she spoke again. "If we do make it out of here, and if I can find a way back to my world, you could come with me." He looked at her with a surprised expression. Then he thought about the world he lived in, and how cruel it had been to him. In truth, he had no more ties to his world. Nothing to hold him back. She was right. She was all he had left in the world, and that was enough to help him make his decision.
"Okay. I'll go with you."
"Really?" She was happily surprised by his answer. She had fallen in love with him, and could not bear the thought of their being apart.
"Really. But don't feel bad if your parents don't like me. Wizards don't tend to hold steady jobs." She smiled at his remark and they kissed again. Jessica paused for a moment, and then put her hands up and unfastened her necklace. She then took the ring off of the chain and handed it to Mark.
"Here," she said . "take this. It's for luck." Mark took the ring and looked at it closely. He could sense that it meant a lot to her, and the act was meant to mean more than just the giving of a good luck charm. Mark put the ring on the index finger of his left hand and they both smiled as the gold shined in the light.
"Thank you." He said. "I'll think of you every time I look at it." Jessica put her hand on his chin and moved his lips up to meet hers.
"That's enough of that you two." Death interrupted. "It is time."
They walked over to where Death was standing before the door. They all took a deep breath before Mark went to open the door, but before he could open it, the door opened by itself. The three of them gasped silently. Then with a violent jerk they were all sucked inside of the room. Mark and Jessica were knocked unconscious by the impact with the floor. Death looked up in a daze and was shocked by what he saw. The room was no longer the small chamber it always had been. The room had grown by about twenty times its size. All the furniture was the same, but the room had grown. Black was sitting upon his throne of skulls with a stern look upon his face.
"Well Death, you have much to answer for. You were given the opportunity to be the second most powerful being in the world. Instead you have chosen to openly defy me. After all I have given you, I ask you, why have you forsaken me?"
"Forsaken you?!?!? What is there to forsake? What have you given me besides an eternity of pain. I gave you everything because if I did not you would have killed me. What little pleasure I got in this miserable existence I scraped together in bits and pieces. But that was too much I guess. For how did you repay my loyalty? You took everything from me. Now I have come to take back the most important thing that you stole. I have come here for my very soul. I can no longer stand idly by while you destroy people as you see fit. I am here to remind you that you are not all powerful. You are not a god, and I shall prove it by destroying you." Death trembled at the sound of his own voice. He had never spoken that way to Mr. Black. He had never let loose his rage and his anguish like that before, and it had felt good. But his courage slowly ebbed away as Black stood up from his throne of skulls.
"So, you believe that you can destroy me? How pray tell did you plan to do that? Need I not remind you that if I die, so too do you die."
"I remember. I remember everything that you taught me."
"Good. Well then, enough of this inane blathering. If you mean to destroy me, then do it. Let's have at it." With those words, Death called upon all of his strength, and courage, and charged at his former master with all the ferocity of a wild animal. They struggled in what would have appeared to be a sphere containing massive amounts of Darklight energy. What was happening inside of that sphere was a battle of magic and endurance as the two foes struggled in an attempt to destroy each other. The Darklight began firing randomly in all directions as the fight became more and more intense. The sounds of the blasts impacting with the building became as loud as thunder. As the two titans clashed Mark and Jessica began to wake up. They were quickly on their feet, but alas it was too late for Death. As powerful as he was, he was no match for Mr. Black. The skeletal figure had grown weary from combat. Black sensed this weakness and pressed the attack further. Finally it came down to one last violent backhand from Black, the impact of which sent Death flying across the room, and into the far wall. The skeletal figure fell to the floor in a heap of shattered bones by the open wall. As the sphere dissipated, Black stepped out from its perimeter. Then, with a wave of his hand, the bones of Death were swept out of The Spire, and into the night sky. I watched as the pieces scattered across the city, and as I did so, I could not help but weep.
"Never!" Mark said defiantly. "We will never give in to you!"
"Fine. Play your game. I have defeated your teacher, your friends, and your ally. I have taken everything from you, including the orb that you went through so much trouble to get. Oh, by the way, it isn't very powerful. In fact, it seems quite useless as a weapon. I think I'll put it on my mantle piece. Well, let's get this over with shall we. What the heck. Try and kill me. In the end, I always win. You'll learn that soon enough." Mark looked at Jessica and they both nodded. They knew that the orb was their only shot at winning. Mark began casting a spell which Black countered almost immediately. Then Mark tried again, and again.
"Getting tired old man? I bet Death took more out of you than you'd like to admit. Especially without me hooked up to your fucking torture chamber! Let's see just how unbeatable you really are!" Mark said. Jessica could see that he was right, and that Black was not as strong as he used to be. The question was, was Mark strong enough to beat him? It was a question she did not want to see answered. As the two waged their war of attrition Jessica slowly made her way towards the orb. It had been placed on the armrest of Black's throne. She made her way towards it, trying not to attract Black's attention. She crept slowly across the room, and over to the throne of skulls. After a few heart pounding moments, her means of ending all the pain and suffering was in her hands. All Jessica had to do was make it work. All she had to do was make it destroy Mr. Black forever. She tried to imagine a bolt of lightning hitting the darkly clad figure, but it still would not. Again she tried, and again until her mind ached from the effort of picturing Black's demise. Her well of hope began to dry up as she watched as Mark tried in vain to defeat the master of the Darklight. But what happened next proved that no man's power is absolute. It began as a slight flash of the Darklight which emanated from the center of the floor. Then the flashes increased in both frequency, and ferocity, as it edged its way outward from the center of the room. The energy given off became so intense that the two warring wizards stopped amidst their own battle in order to view the spectacle before them. Neither Mark nor Jessica knew what to make of it, for as each moment passed, the Darklight increased in both frequency, and ferocity.
"What are you up to Black?" Mark demanded. Then he looked at the face of his enemy, and for the first time he saw a look of fear in Black's eyes.
"You fools. You arrogant young fools. This is not my doing. This is what I have been trying to prevent my entire life. It was why I was created. I was made to keep the Darklight from going unchecked, and from destroying our world. Because of you and your idiotic need for freedom we are all going to die."
"Boom" That was the sound of a large blast that impacted only a few feet from where Jessica was standing. The shock-wave created knocked her to the ground. Mark quickly rushed to her aid, forgetting everything but the need to know that she was all right.
"Jessicaaaa!!!" He yelled as he was himself knocked down by a blast. They curled up beside each other and watched as the blasts continued to intensify. The energy given off began to heat up the room like a sauna. They watched as Mr. Black desperately tried in vain to contain the energy. He used every last bit of strength and will in his efforts to keep the Darklight from killing them all. Nothing seemed to work against the power that he had wielded so effortlessly before. Even Black was helpless before its might, and this fact sent him into a frenzied state of panic. Mark and Jessica watched in awe as the man that had caused so much pain, to so many, began to fall in exhaustion. They listened as he screamed, pleaded, and begged for the destruction to end. And then they witnessed the first of only two times in the life of Mr. Black that he showed a sign of humanity. They saw him weep.
As tightly as Jessica was holding onto Mark, she was also holding onto the orb. She had not given up hope yet. She still believed that it would work, and that all could be saved. Mark looked down at her hand as it grasped the orb tightly. He looked up at the apocalyptic scene that was playing out before his eyes, and then he too took hold of the orb. They sat there on the floor with one common thought. They sat there and wished for one thing. For the onslaught to be over. For the energy to be contained, at least for a moment. And then, it happened. The orb began to glow brighter than the sun. Mark and Jessica held each other tightly and shielded their eyes from the blinding light The wind around them picked up so intensely that they could hear the throne of skulls being smashed into pieces against the far wall. They could hear Mr. Black cry out in confusion. And then all other noises were drowned out by the intense crack of thunder. When they opened their eyes, the room was calm once again.
The energies that had nearly destroyed the
entire world had at least temporarily subsided. The two of them
stood up, but were quickly knocked down by a burst of energy.
They both looked to see where it came from only to see a
battered and beaten Mr. Black standing before them in a frantic
state. "Now you two shall come with me. We are going to go back
to the Pullson Siphon, and I am going to strap you back in so
that this never happens again. Do I make myself clear?"
"They shall do no such thing Black. You are not in control here anymore." A familiar voice said. The three of them looked across the room to see just who the voice belonged to. The voice could only have belonged to one person, but it was a person that could not possibly have been there. Sure enough, it was.
"Pick your jaw up off the floor boy. I promised you that I would see this thing through to the end, and Jack Mage always keeps his word."
"Who else would walk around in public dressed like this?" Mage replied. Jessica thought about his question but decided not to ruin the moment with a long list of names. She was as shocked as Mark to see Mage standing before them alive, and they both had a lot of questions they wanted him to answer.
"But how is this possible? You died in The Dregs." Mark said.
"Remember what Death said, magical things do not always die the way you might. I have been alive for more than twelve-hundred years. Death does not come so easy to me. When you heard me yelling that was merely because I was in pain. While that did sting like a son of a bitch, I'm still here."
"But what happened? Where have you been?" Jessica interjected.
"When Black thought that he had destroyed me, he left The Dregs in search of you two. What he did not realize was that the body that he left was only a husk. Once you two were well out of danger I created that husk at the same time as transporting myself into the Mirror Maze. This gave Black the illusion that he had killed me, and me time to recuperate."
"But why didn't you come sooner?" Jessica asked. "Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the save and all, but we could have used some help here earlier."
"Like yourself, I too had been trapped inside the Maze. It took me this long to get back here. As I attempted to return to this world I did however utilize the Maze's uncanny ability to show separate realities. This is how I found you here."
"This is all very interesting, I'm sure." Black interrupted. "It still changes nothing."
"Oh no?" Mage asked sarcastically. "It seems to me that the day's events have all but left you spent, old man. It seems to me that for once I am the one in control here. Jessica, could I please see that orb of yours?" Jessica nodded and handed Mage the orb. All three of them stared defiantly at Black as he began to take a step backwards. Mage spoke again. "Thank you. Mark, Why don't you take Jessica out into the hallway and wait for me. I wouldn't want her seeing any more bloodshed than she already has." Mark reluctantly did as he was told, and as they exited the room, the two of them looked at Black one more time. He had seemed so overwhelming before. It occurred to Jessica that things can change very quickly. Still, she had no pity to give. Whatever Mage did to Black was fine by her.
"You have been around far too long ancient one. It is time for someone else to take your place in this city." Mage declared.
"You want to know the difference between you and me Jack? I do what I do, and there is never any doubt as to my intentions. You are all about doubt. You have duped those two into thinking that this affair is as simple as black and white, dark and light, and good versus evil. We both know that that is not the case. That is why I shall be back. I always come back, and there is not a damn thing that you can do about it. But before you do your worst, will you answer me this one question? When did I become the bad guy in this scenario?"
"The moment I chose to make you into one." And
with that Mage blasted Black with a burst of energy that
shattered the green amulet which had been hanging from the neck
of the darkly clad figure, and tore a hole in his chest. Mage
watched for a moment as Black's exposed heart beat at a feverish
pace, and then he blasted what remained of his enemy into the
back wall of the room. Black's body became imbedded inside the
wall as it rested there without a sign of life. What discernible
pieces laid imbedded in the wall melted upon impact with floor.
The ooze that remained drained through the cracks in the floor,
Mage left the room confident that he had accomplished what he wanted to. He found Jessica and Mark leaning next to the door. They were holding each other closely, and seemed to be happy just to be alive. Jessica looked up at him and asked, "So what now? I mean now that Black is gone?"
"Well, I have some very good news for you young lady. One of the things I managed to do while inside the Mirror Maze was to find your world. That is to say, I found out where you come from, and if you'd like, I can send you home."
"What?!" Jessica said loudly and ecstatically. "You mean I can finally get back home?! I can get back to my friends and family?!"
"That's right." Mage replied with a grin.
"Mark did you hear that?!" Jessica paused as
she saw the look on his face. That is when she realized that his
ties to his own world were no longer dead.
Mage realized what was happening and said, "Mark, you should go with her."
"What?" Mark said. "But what about you?"
"What about me? Listen boy, you never liked it here in the first place. As far as you and me are concerned I can teach you no more. You stood up to Mr. Black in a test of spells. The power that you lack will come with time. You'll be better off in her world. I've seen it. It is a place of infinite possibilities. One such as ourselves could prosper very well there."
"Then why don't you come too Jack?"
"My place is here." Mage gave a sigh, etched in a warm smile. "I'll tell you what. If you want to help me one last time, help me destroy that infernal Pullson Siphon for good. I'll send Jessica home now, and you can go once we're done. What do you say?"
"Sounds like a plan Jack." They both smiled. Then Mark turned towards Jessica. "Looks like I'm going to have to go apartment hunting."
"Nope. You can stay with me. Sound like a plan?"
"Sounds good to me." And with that they kissed. Not the kind that one sees most married couples do in passing, but a kiss that begged to last for an eternity. But as Mage opened up a portal of light using the orb, they knew that the moment would have to end. "I'll see you soon." Mark said.
"You better, or I'll have to come back and steal you away." Jessica turned and walked towards the portal. She was almost in when she turned around slightly. They Watched each other as she entered the portal, and Mark did not stop looking until it had closed completely. He looked down at the ring on his finger, and could not help but smile. His recent luck had brought about the end to all of his former worries. He was finally free. Somehow it all seemed too good to be true.
"Doctor!" She heard her mother say. "Doctor, she's awake!" A man in hospital scrubs walked into the room and began talking to her.
"Jessica. I'm Dr. Ramsey. Can you hear me?" He began examining her before she spoke.
"Where am I? Where's the jeep?"
"It's okay honey." Her father said. "The jeep isn't important. You're okay though, that's all that matters. How do you feel?"
"Where's Mark? Where am I?" She could hear her mother talking to one of the many nurses that had come in to help the doctor check on her.
"Jessica, you're in a hospital. There was an accident but you're okay now. Okay honey. Just relax." Jessica began to get her senses back slowly. Had she been in the hospital the entire time? The thought began to seep into her brain. Was it all a dream? She did not know. It had been so real. It had all seemed so real, too real for it to have been just a dream. She could not make any sense of it at all.
She stayed in bed for the next four days. Her parents took turns staying with her while she recovered. After the third day, she was allowed to walk around the hospital. Her injuries were not permanent, but it still hurt a bit for her to walk around. Still nothing would deter her from wandering the hospital after she had found out its name. She was in Morgan hospital. She had been flown there in a helicopter after the accident. She had been in a coma for almost a week before she had woken up, and she wanted answers. The problem was that nobody took her story seriously. Her doctors and parents all kept telling her that it had been just a dream. But it had seemed so real to her. She did not know how it could have been a dream.
On the last day she was to be a guest of Morgan hospital, she decided to wander through a different part of the hospital than she had been in before. It was an area of the hospital meant for those patients that had not been fortunate enough to wake up. Instead they laid in there bed, unconscious to the world around them. It was there that she happened upon a woman in her early forties. The woman was about a bit taller than Jessica's own height, with dark hair, a pail complexion, and blue eyes. She was getting coffee when they nearly bumped into each other. "Oh, Hello." The woman had said. "I'm sorry I guess I didn't see you there."
"That's okay." Jessica had replied. They got to talking by the coffee machine. The woman had said that her name was Julie, and Jessica told her why she was there. That she had been in a coma and wanted to see what she must have been like in that state.
"It's a terrible thing to have a loved one in a coma. Never knowing when, or if they'll wake up."
"Is there someone here that you know?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. He's over there by the window." Julie said while pointing across the hall. "That's my boy over there." They walked over as they talked some more. "It was a terrible thing. He was fifteen at the time it happened. He had been riding his bike around the neighborhood. I was told that a car, or rather a jeep had hit him. It was a very sad moment in my life." Jessica was not paying that much attention to her story. She was only curious as to if other coma patients had dreams. But as they got closer, her eyes and mouth got wider and wider, and she became very interested in everything Julie had to say. For the boy lying in the bed was someone that she knew as well. It was Mark. He was lying on the bed, in a coma, and had been there for three whole years. Then she saw something glistening in the light. It was a ring on his finger. It was the ring that she had given him.
"You know I've always wondered what my boy was thinking. If he knows that I am here with him. Did you know they say that the eyes are the windows to the soul?"
"No. No I wasn't aware of that."
"Well, that's what some people say. I'm inclined to believe them. It must be quite unnerving to have them locked like that. I wonder what happens behind them. I wonder what happens behind locked windows."
As Jessica stood motionless in shock over Mark's body, a completely different scene was being played out inside his mind. It was a scene of pain and anguish. It was a scene that Mark had thought would never be played out again. But it was being played out. Mark was yet again strapped to the Pullson Siphon. And yet again there was an evil voice cackling in the background. Only this time it was not the voice of his old enemy, Mr. Black. It was a voice that belonged to one of the two people left in any world that Mark truly trusted. It was the voice of Jack Mage. Mage had tricked Mark. They had gone to the Pullson Siphon under the guise that they would destroy the infernal machine. Mage had had other ideas. Not only did he long for the power of the orb, but also that of the Darklight. He used Mark in order to get it. And as Mage chuckled at Marks pain-filled whimpers, a part of Mark died. His love had been separated from him. His friend and teacher had betrayed him. All that was left was the pain. That, and the hope sprung by the ring on his finger. The hope that some day she would return as she had promised if he did not cross over. She was all he had left, and he knew that one day, she would return. She had brought hope to his otherwise hopeless world, and he knew that that hope would not die. It could not die. And it never did.
So Sean and his mother walked through the halls of Morgan Hospital. They were late for the appointment and Sean's mother was cursing herself as they made their way towards the doctor's office. They arrived at an elevator and Sean was told to press the button for it to come down. Sean looked around curiously at his surroundings. For some reason the white walls had always been something that he liked to look at. He seemed to be hypnotized by the blankness of it. Meanwhile his mother was fiddling around with her pocketbook. She did not know exactly where the doctor's office was, and had to ask directions. She had taken her wallet out in order to find the doctor's card, and was still trying to put it back in her purse when the elevator door opened. She did not hear the doors open because of the frustration caused by the inability of her wallet to fit inside of her purse. It was only one of many things which kept the young woman on edge on a daily basis. Her frustration at the day's events had been so great that she felt as though she were close to a nervous breakdown. It was not easy taking care of a child like Sean. He needed constant care. That kind of commitment to someone creates a lot of stress, and requires a lot of patience. That is why it was not surprising that she did not hear or see the elevator doors open. But Sean did. On instinct he went inside and waited for his mother to join him, but she did not. In fact she did not realize he was in the elevator until the doors were almost shut. But by then it was too late for her to stop the doors. Still, that thought never entered her mind. Upon seeing the doors closing she dropped everything, literally, and ran towards her son. When they closed she scrambled to hit the buttons for the doors to open, but it was too late. He was gone.
Meanwhile, Sean had become very scared. The boy began to whistle Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." It was his favorite song. His mother would put it on for him on their CD player whenever he got nervous or scared. Normally it calmed him. However, this was a slightly different set of circumstances. He had never ridden on an elevator alone before. He had never truly been alone. He always had someone with him, or he knew how to get to them easily. The elevator was something that Sean did not feel completely secure in. He began pushing random buttons in hope of getting back to the one his mother was on. As soon as the doors opened, Sean got off. He did not see his mother waiting for him as he walked out into the hallway. He did however see that the doors had closed behind him. There was no turning back anymore. Sean decided to walk for a bit. He walked down the hall, smiling at the white walls. He did not stop until he came to a hallway full of rooms with people lying in beds. They were all asleep, and hooked up to monitors. At least, that is the way it looked to Sean. The on call-nurse was away from her desk, so nobody noticed him walking by the unconscious patients. He walked by them looking at each face, not knowing what to do. As he walked so too did he begin to mimic the beeping sound given off by the heart monitors that he could hear. Finally, Sean walked by a bed that caught his attention. It had a young man lying on it. Sean did not know who it was, but somehow, he felt drawn to the stranger. The man seemed familiar in a way. It was obviously not someone that Sean saw on a daily basis. In fact, Sean could not recall who the strange young man was. Still, there was something about him. Sean tried to shake off the feeling, but it would not leave. So he walked up to where the young man's head was resting on a pillow. He looked at the eyelids that seemed to be shut unusually tight. Then Sean lifted his hand up over the bed, and placed it on the man's forehead. Sean saw a flash of light that seemed to encompass everything around him. And then, darkness.
The room was somewhat small. The three walls that were still standing were painted a chalky grayish color, and what little paint there was left seemed faded and cracked. There was something odd on one of the walls though. The words "The Dregs" were written on it. The writing was faded, but legible. Still, to Sean they were meaningless. There was a brown door at the far end of the room that was broken, barely holding on to the hinges. It swayed back and forth under the power of a slight breeze that was entering through a rectangular window to his right on the wall that his head leaned on. Underneath the window there was a tall wooden stool with a radio. The radio was playing very softly, but loud enough for him to hear. There was a song on that he liked very much. It was Beethoven's fifth symphony. Its familiar sound calmed him a bit. It took his mind off how scared he really was. He turned up the volume very loudly and stood up. Sean then began to pace back and forth in the room. This act calmed him as well. It had been something that he had always done, nobody was quite sure why though. The unsteady floor was made of wood, and it had large holes all over it. There seemed to be a lot of dust build-up all over the room. The dust was kicked up so thickly by his pacing that Sean was forced to move to the other side of the room so that the dust would stop bothering his eyes. He sneezed several times as the dust settled back into place on the floor.
The place looked like it had not been lived in for a long time. The bed that he had been sleeping in had not been dressed with sheets; only a dusty, mold ridden old mattress which had an indentation in it where his body had been. Oddly enough, there were two separate, and larger indentations on the bed, but Sean was too preoccupied to notice. As Sean looked around the room, he noticed something that caught his attention. There was a large blue dresser with a sizable mirror attached to the top. The mirror was held in place by a solid gold frame that had peculiar designs of small goblin-like creatures carved all over it. Sean walked over to it and moved his hands along the grooves of the designs. They felt odd to him for some reason. In fact the whole mirror seemed to emanate a strange force which Sean did not understand, but was drawn to. Then Sean's attention was drawn away from the carvings on the frame, and to the mirror itself. He had always thought that mirrors were just supposed to show him what he looked like, but in this case his image was not mimicking him. It was smiling. Sean smiled back at it in an attempt to be in synch with it. It was the only thing he could think of doing to make the mirror work again. Then his image put its hands to its face and began making faces at Sean. Sean in turn did the same. He was becoming frustrated by the fact that his image was not doing what it was supposed to. That was when his image started waving its arms wildly and jumping up and down. Sean gave up his efforts after that. All he could think to do was to fold his arms up on the top of the dresser and bury his face in them as he began to cry.
The mirror image changed its expression to that of guilt, and then that of a warm smile, the kind of smile that a mother might give to her child to calm him down. Then it spoke. "Do not cry Sean. I am here to help." Sean lifted his head up from his arms to see the friendly expression on his image's face. "You have work to do Sean. I have come to give you something that will help you. It is a gift. May it serve you well." And with that, the image slowly reached its hand out from beyond the boundaries of the mirror, and placed its hand on Sean's forehead. And then, darkness.
For a while Sean stood there and thought about how he had changed. Along with the mental aspects of himself, his body had adjusted as well. His motor functions had gone from being clumsy to smooth. He could also focus on more than one thing at a time. He could hear all around him. He could tell what was happening around him. The sights, smells, and noises were no longer just jumbles of information. Things made sense, and he could make sense of the things. That is why he knew to duck when he heard a loud explosion from somewhere outside his window. The fact that he had done it so quickly also meant that he had somehow acquired instincts that he had not had before, but that was just one more thing to ponder later.
Sean wanted to get out of the room. The atmosphere that was created by the dust and the rotting wood was slightly nauseating. But first he wanted to see what had made the incredibly loud sound that he had heard. He carefully crawled towards the place where the wall had fallen down and peaked his head over what remained of its base. He was in a city. It looked to be a bombed out, war-torn part of town. Sean wondered where he was, and what was happening outside. He quickly summoned up his courage and went to the door. As soon as he touched the precariously balanced object, it fell off its hinges and hit the ground with a loud smack. A moment later bullets began to tear their way through what remained of the walls. Sean quickly ducked down again, and then scrambled through the vacant door-frame and into the hallway. The lights were all out. For a moment Sean figured that the power was out in the building, but if that were the case then how could the radio have been playing. In fact, it was still playing. Sean could hear the soothing sound of Ludwig Von as he made his way through the hallway. It helped him to have something familiar to hold onto as he tried not to get killed. He continued to crawl as he made his way down the hallway because the bullets were not being stopped by the poorly maintained walls. He found an elevator and instinctively hit the button. After a moment Sean realized that it was out of order. It had never occurred to him before that elevators needed electricity to operate. He made his way down the hall until he found a set of stairs, and then made his way down to the first floor.
Sean stopped just short of the blasted out door to the lobby and peered around the corner to see what was awaiting him. The place was in shambles. The ceiling had caved in, the walls were crumbling, and the entire front end of the room had been knocked down. The first thing that he really took note of though, was the fact that there were two bodies lying in the middle of the floor. From the looks of it they had been dead for at least a couple of days. Their skin was pale and the odor of rotting flesh was in the air. Sean crept along the side of the wall as he made his way to the outside world. There were still sounds of gunfire but it seemed as though they were coming from a distance. Before leaving Sean took one last look at the scene before him. He noticed that there was a severed head on top of the front desk. It looked to be the severed head of an old man wearing a porter's cap. As Mark went out into the strange new world before him, he could not help but see the face of the old man. It had been distended in pain before death. Whatever happened to the guy, it sure was not pleasant. That thought stuck in Sean's mind, and it did not leave until after he had met the man in the black cloak.
He walked for about an hour with no destination in mind and made no contact with anything other than the alley-cats, stray dogs, and whatever else had decided to use the dead as their supper. Night fell, and with it came rain. At first Sean did not mind the rain. After all, it fell loud enough to drown out the sounds of screams that echoed through the streets with a haunting tone. But soon the rain changed. It ceased to simply soak Sean to the bone, and began to burn his skin. It started as a slight irritation, and increased in intensity with every drop. It got to the point where Sean began yell out in agony as the water began to burn his skin like boiling hot coffee. He quickly ran to the nearest building and entered it through a large hole in the wall. Once inside Sean looked back to observe the rain as it fell to the ground. The water appeared to be getting hotter and hotter. Sean scanned the street before him and then retched after catching the sight of what the water was doing to the corpses lying in the street. He looked back up and watched in disgust as the bodies began to waste away. Their skin began to cook, and then fall off onto the pavement. Then their internal organs melted away, leaving a foul stench in the air. It was the kind of smell that must have permeated the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Burning flesh began to float down the streets as it melted in what can only be described as acid rain. Sean puked yet again and then quickly turned his head at the sound of a slight chuckle. He was not alone.
"Don't be afraid boy. I shall not harm you. Come on and help me build a fire so you don't catch pneumonia." The voice belonged to a man in a black cloak. Sean could not see his face because the man wore a hood that was pulled down over it. The man appeared to be dressed like a modern day druid. He wore a black cloak that covered every part of his body. Nothing was exposed, not even his face, which was masked by a hood. There was a brief moment of nervousness and indecision. But that moment passed as a cold wind blew in, and Sean realized that drying off by a fire might not be such a bad idea after all. So the two of them gathered pieces of wood that had been ripped out of the building on some previous occasion. The campfire was not very impressive but it did the trick. Sean quickly began to heat up and dry off a bit. It was a good turn of events because he found that he needed the rest badly. He had not realized just how tired he had been. The two of them had not talked since their impromptu meeting. Sean was still a bit nervous, and the cloaked man could sense it.
"So what brings you to my humble abode young sir? You seem lost. Is there anywhere in particular that you are trying to get to?" The stranger's question was answered only by the shaking of Sean's head. The man in the cloak paused for a moment. He seemed to be scrutinizing Sean, and Sean did not take kindly to it. He was about to say something when the cloaked man spoke again. "You're one of them aren't you?" Sean became confused, but still did not answer. "Yes you are, aren't you? Tell me if this sounds familiar, you arrived at the city of Morgan without knowing where you were, or how you got here. Nothing is as it should be here, and you're not quite sure what the hell is going on. Does that ring true?"
Sean's jaw dropped at some point while the strange man had been talking. The man had been right. "How did you know that? Who are you?"
"Who am I? Let us say... that I used to be a servant of the people. My name is John, or at least it used to be." Sean slowly extended his hand and said, "I'm Sean." The man did not take his hand though, so Sean nervously retracted it.
"Please try not to be offended. I recently acquired a certain... condition, which has scarred my hand. I'm a bit shy about it if you don't mind. John, and Sean, what a pair we’d make." Sean nodded his head, and then the man went on talking. "As I was saying, I used to be a the chief of police for this city. That is, before the war broke out."
"Yes. A civil war has been raging in Morgan City ever since it's former ruler was dethroned. There is currently a power struggle going on between two wizards; Mr. Black who used to rule, and Jack Mage. Nobody knows what he wants to do. They have split the population of this city into three groups. There are the two warring factions, and then there are those unfortunates that are caught in the crossfire. It's truly a despicable scene."
"How did it start?"
"For as long as anyone can remember Mr. Black had secretly ruled the city from behind the scenes. Then along came a boy. He was much like yourself actually. He came from your world, and possessed great power. Mage used the boy in an attempt to battle Black. But it was pretty much a stalemate, until a girl arrived who was also from your world. She changed the balance of power. A confrontation was inevitable, and Black lost. He's been trying to regain control ever since."
"How do you know so much?"
"I used to be Mr. Black's right hand man, until the bastard betrayed me! For a while I sought nothing but immediate and painful revenge."
"Not since I was visited by a spirit. It came in the visage of an old man playing a guitar by the side of the road. I could not hear the lyrics that he sang, for they were sung too softly. But I did hear and understand what he had to say. The spirit told me that a power greater than that of Black and Mage is coming. This being shall end the terror that has swept this world, and make things the way they should be. Ever since hearing the good news I have begun to gather an army to help bring this world's tyrants to their knees before him."
"On the basis of some hallucination you raised an army? No offense but who's going to follow a guy living in a bombed out nightclub?"
"Your disbelief shall not take away from my own faith. And for your information I did not raise an army, I gathered an army. I gather the dead, and bring them to the surrounding buildings. There they shall stay until the new master comes to raise them up for the battle to come."
"Okaaaay. Thank you for your hospitality but I think I'll be on my wa..."
"Hold on. Sssshhhh! Did you hear that?"
"I didn't hear anything."
"Well I did. They’re coming for me!
"Black! He lost a Horseman in the great battle, the rest are out searching for a replacement for their fallen comrade."
"Well, I still don't hear anything. See you around."
"Wait you fool." The man was so insistent that he quickly sprang up in an effort to keep Sean from leaving. In doing so his hood fell down by his shoulders and his skeleton head shined in the firelight. Sean took one look at the visage before him and then ran faster than he thought possible. He screamed in panic as he ran. He ran out the hole in the wall, and all the way down the street. Death stood there in a state of shock as he realized that the boy's screams had given him away. The Horsemen knew where he was. Death looked out into the night hoping that he had been wrong, and that they were somewhere else, somewhere far, far away. But when he saw three sets of shadows slide across the wall, his worst fears were confirmed. And then, darkness.
"Of course Floyd. I always have time to talk to my best General."
"We were able to take from seventy-seventh to seventy-ninth street today, but my men are tired. If we're going to keep pushing those bastards back we're gonna' need more men, and supplies."
"Indeed. You shall have your supplies by dawn."
"What about reinforcements? These battles are getting costly you know."
"Are you presuming to tell me what to do? Was it not I that saved you from bleeding to death after Black had both your arms sawed off with a rusty blade? Was it not I that gave you your bionic arms so that you might take your revenge upon him and his people? Do you presume to think that you are in charge of this situation?"
"No. No I don't Jack. You're in charge. I know that. But as head of your army it is my responsibility to inform you on the condition of said army. And in my opinion, it would be to the benefit of said army to replace some of the men that were lost in combat."
"You have your opinions and I have mine. In the end it is mine that counts though. Do I make myself clear Floyd?"
"Good. Then as long as you're here I shall give you the job that I want carried out by your best platoon. There is a young boy named Sean Patton. He is somewhere in the city. He has enough raw power inside of him to make our young Mark look like a fucking firecracker. I want that boy brought here to me before he falls into the wrong hands. And by that I mean if either Black, or that pain in the ass who calls himself Veridical, gets to him first, you will wish that you were in Mark's place. Do you understand that too?"
"Good. You see? That's how it works. I tell you to do something, and you go and do it. Right?"
"Well? Go and do it. NOW!!!"
"Yes sir. Right away sir."
"Oh, and Floyd?"
"After you've chosen the men for this assignment I want you to take a brigade and round up all the males in the area between the ages of twelve and sixty-five. Tell them that they are being drafted for the good of the cause. That should give you plenty of extra manpower. Satisfied?"
And with that Floyd left Mage's office to carry out his orders. Meanwhile, Mage sat on his throne of skulls trying to mentally locate the boy, Sean Patton. He could not find him. Mage eventually grew frustrated by the seemingly impossible task. A young girl brought him a meal that he had ordered earlier, and she bore the brunt of his frustration when he incinerated her on the spot for having interrupted his work. Finally the wizard gave up, and decided to walk to the room that housed the Pullson Siphon. He enjoyed watching his former pupil writhe in pain. It had a calming effect on his mind. "There is a boy out there like you Mark. This boy is something special. He might even be more powerful than me.” Mage paused shortly as he looked for a reaction. There was none. Mark seemed to be oblivious to what was being said. “I want you to know this, Mark, because he will be joining you shortly. Won’t that be nice? You’ll have a roommate to talk to. I admit, his conversation might not be that stirring. I mean he’s not that old that he might actually know anything, but I’m sure you two will get along like brothers." Mage scanned Marks face for the sneer which had become the youth's usual comeback. Mage enjoyed the fact that Mark was helpless. It empowered the former owner of The Dregs.
Mark's head was lowered towards the ground. He was covered in sweat from constantly moving around in pain. His eyes were bloodshot from not being able to sleep since his return to the Pullson Siphon. He lifted it up in order to look Mage in the eye, and then said, "Do what you may... you son of a bitch. It won't matter. I'm going to get out of here... and when I do, you're gonna' pay." Mage laughed slightly at Mark's words.
"Idle threats do not scare me boy. Nobody knows you are here but me and Floyd, and Floyd is far too loyal to me to ever betray me. The only other person who even remembers that you're alive is that bitch who you grew so fond of." Mark looked at Mage with angry eyes. "Ha Ha Ha. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot that you're a hopeless romantic at heart Mark. I can see now where your hope is coming from, but you can forget it. I gave her a one way ticket out of this world, and there is nothing that can bring her back. She's gone, so forget about her. Get a reality check kid. That love conquering all bullshit is good for Hollywood. In the real world it's just a bunch of crap. By now she's forgotten all about you. Give in to your situation. Let the despair numb your pain. This is your life now, and nothing is going to change that." And with that, Mage left the room. As he left he chuckled loudly and sadistically. The visit had done its job. Mage felt better about himself.
Mark's thoughts took no heed of Mage's words though. What Mage did not notice was that Mark had stopped paying attention to him the moment his back was turned. Mark was too busy concentrating on the ring on his left hand. It had been Jessica's ring, and as Mage himself had said, it had power. Ever since Mark had been betrayed by Mage, Mark had set himself to getting even. It had become an obsession really. The ring had given his obsession a focus. The Pullson Siphon was made so that the Darklight might be kept in check, and whoever was unfortunate enough to be strapped in, became like a filter for that power to go into the user. It only let out the amount of power that was called upon. The ring allowed Mark to bypass Mage's control, and to take little amounts of power every time Mage used his power. So while Mage left feeling confident that he had crushed his prisoner's morale, Mark secretly smiled as his thoughts drifted to the future that he longed for. "I am not powerful enough to free myself yet, but one day I will be. Then I'll make him pay, and then I'll find Jessica. And we'll be happy. I'm not beaten yet." With that thought his smile widened. One might have looked upon him and thought him to be delirious, or insane. Maybe he was, or soon would be. One thing was for certain though, his days were anything but numbered.
Sean sprang up from the curb and prepared himself for a fight. Then he looked over the individual in front of him in an effort to figure out what evil intentions were about to be revealed. It was a young man in his late-teens, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a red beard. The man was wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt, topped off with a pair of old black beaten up boots that seemed a half a size too big for his feet. The young man stood his ground when Sean had put up his fists in a show of bravado. Sean was about half the man's size and it would not have been much of a fight if it came to blows. The man watched Sean trip over himself from shock, and then began to laugh hysterically at the sight of it. Sean felt slightly foolish for reacting quite so rashly but he still did not trust the man. After all, in a world that is not your own, who can you trust? "What do you want?" Sean said in a demanding tone of voice.
"You. I've been looking for you ever since you came to my world."
"Your world? What are you talking about?"
"Actually, it's technically Mark's world, so long as he's here. At least, they can call it his all they want."
"Who the fuck is Mark? Who the fuck are you?"
"Mark is a guy about my age. He’s the one who created this world. We are currently inside of his imagination. That is, all except for you and I."
"Oh great, another nut-case."
"I am not crazy Sean. I'm just misunderstood."
"How do you know my name? Who in the fucking hell are you?"
"My name is Veridical. I know all and speak the truth about all that is in this world. That has been my job ever since that insufferable boy dragged me in here."
"Mark you idiot. Who do you think? Oh, forgive me. When one knows everything one tends to presume that others should know more than they actually do."
"You know everything?" Sean said sarcastically.
"Yes." Veridical replied with a smug tone. Then he gave a big sigh and began to explain the situation to young Sean. "You used to be autistic. Don't interrupt, let me finish because I know I'm right. As I was saying, you used to be autistic. Then you stumbled into the coma ward of Morgan Hospital and placed your hand on Mark's forehead. That act somehow drew you into his mind and his world. Do you remember this happening?"
"Yes. It's a bit hazy, but I remember being in the hospital room with a young man. He was lying on a..."
"Yes, yes, I know that already. Anyway, you were not the first person to travel here. There was another, a girl named Jessica Porter. She arrived and left shortly before you came into the picture."
"But why? How is this all possible?"
"Simple. Do you remember witnessing a car accident about three years ago?"
"Yes…I think. It was a boy on a bike. He was hit by a jeep on Centre Street. I remember it because I felt sad for the boy. I knew I felt sad too, I just didn't know what was really happening though, and the moment passed as if it had never happened at all."
"Well, that boy was Mark. On that fateful day his blood was soaked into the very soul of that jeep. I don't know why for sure. Most everything except for rocks have souls, and blood tends to never leave anything fully. There is always an imprint left at the heart and soul of whatever the item might be. In this case, it was a jeep. The same jeep that Jessica accidentally drove off a cliff in. The crash shed her blood on the car, and somehow etched her into the car's soul as well. Let me know if I'm getting too deep or moving too fast, will you? I have a tendency to do that.
"Okay." Veridical was about to continue his explanation when they both heard a gunshot close by. "Who the heck is shooting?" Sean asked.
"I'm not sure."
"I thought you knew everything." Sean said in a heavily sarcastic tone.
"Shut up and move! That is, unless you want to get shot.”
"But you promised to give me Mark. I loved him, and now he is gone forever. He was taken from me by that whore. She took him back to her world and now I'll never see him again. So why should I help you? Huh? Why should I become your spy again Mr. Black? What could you possibly offer me that could fill the emptiness in my soul?"
"My dear girl, I am sure we can come to some arrangement. After all once my plans are carried out I shall once again control this world, and maybe a few more."
"Is that it then? I get to choose what I sell my soul for after you have won?"
"Young lady, don't you think your getting just a bit melodramatic. Besides, you gave me your soul a long time ago. So be a good girl and do as I have asked."
"Very well. I will do as you ask. But do not presume to own me."
"I presume nothing. Without me you would still be just another girl who was too shy to even think about doing anything socially. I gave you your confidence. And now I have given you power over all men. All that can just as easily be taken away. Is that understood?"
"Good. Now run along and do as you are told."
"Just one question before I go? If I do have power over all men, then why do I not have power over you?"
"I am not a man, I am a monster. Now leave me. I have other matters to attend to." And then Black was alone in his chamber. Alone with his thoughts. "Oh how I yearn for better days. My power has grown so dim that I now need to turn to love-spurned women for aide. Soon though, I shall take back my Spire. I shall shed this pathetic shack for the serenity of my old home. Even my newly made throne of skulls feels slightly off. This warehouse does little to comfort me in this time of war. True, the residual essence of Mark's presence, as well as Jessica's, runs thick here. I imagine that they fornicated here. It would explain the energy. The two of them did not know it, but together there is nothing that they could not have done. The orb proved that. They believed that it amplified their powers when in actuality it was their joint powers which stopped the Darklight. Alone they were but sheep for me to shear whenever I needed strength. Together, they make my own energies seem almost nonexistent. But alas, they are gone. They're probably sitting on a beach somewhere doing whatever it is that kids do these days. They now know a life which I have long since forgotten. But then, creatures like myself do not seek that kind of happiness. I take joy in the eternal game. The eternal power struggle which must eventually end with me as the victor. For in the end order dominates all, and I always win in the end."
"No sir." The platoon said in unison. And with that they quickly formed up as they had been told to. Each soldier knew their job. Each of them tried to treat the mission like it was like any other. They mentally tried to turn it into a routine op. But each one knew that it was far from routine. They had a mission that came straight from the top. Straight from the kind of person that would have them and their families tortured to death, or worse, if they failed. That thought was etched into their minds, along with the rewards that they would receive if they pulled it off. The men and women of the crack platoon also knew what they were up against, or at least they thought they did. Two youths who would be caught unawares sounds like an easy target. The problem was that both of them had great powers, one more than the other. It would not be an easy night's work. First platoon of Baker company knew this. And as they began to stalk through the city streets, each member set their minds to what they had to do, and hoped that in the end, it would be enough.
They moved through the streets stealthily, taking great care as they made their way around the city which housed many dangers. First and foremost being the army of Mr. Black. By that time he too probably had sent someone out after the boy, and that meant the Horsemen. In the past the Horsemen had been the dominant force that had put fear into the hearts of all who crossed their path. But that was before Mage had come into power. That was before his army had been formed, and given their limited abilities of telekinesis. Each and every soldier had been outfitted with an M-16, a 45 automatic handgun, and the ability to move things with their minds. Those in the elite platoon had been chosen to be there because of their abilities in combat. As a prize for their accomplishments their telekinetic abilities had been doubled in strength by their commander in chief. Still, the Horsemen were still the Horsemen, and rumor had it that a fourth Horseman was being sought out. If that fact was true, then the balance of power was in jeopardy. The Horsemen had not been complete since the loss of their Death. He had been defeated at The Great Battle for The Spire, as the new history books called it, and no trace of him had been found. Since then Mage's armies had pushed their enemy back at every encounter. Some said that the war would soon be over, and that all would get their just rewards for the great victory. But that did not matter to those of first platoon. All that mattered, was the mission.
The platoon halted in place when Harrison signaled a halt by putting his hand up towards them. Harrison had stopped at a street-corner and was peering around it carefully as the rest of the platoon stood still on the sidewalk. Each soldier was on a razor's edge as he made his way back to report what he had seen.
"Are you sure, private?"
"Yes sir, Colonel sir. They match the descriptions we were given."
"What's their position?"
"Their sitting on the curb on the far end of the block. It looks like they're catching their breath, like they've been running from something."
"Very well. Nice job Harrison, now get back into position and don't move until I give the word."
Harrison crept back to the corner of the apartment complex that he had been peering around. The Colonel thought about the situation for a moment, and then signaled the rest of the platoon to form up on Harrison's position. Once they were all ready, the Colonel peered around the corner to get a look for himself. Being satisfied with Harrison's appraisal of the situation, he waved his hand in the air for his men to see. That was the signal for them to make their move, and that is what they did. First squad started things off by moving slowly in the shadows, as they slid along the side of the apartment complex, and made their way towards the opposite side of the street that their prey was resting. After a moment, second squad followed in suit. Meanwhile third squad had already circled the block in an effort to link up with first squad's coming attack. Fourth squad stood their ground with the Colonel as they waited in reserve.
Everything was going as planned. Sure, there had been some improvising. It was only natural considering that the battle was being fought at an unknown location. The situation was under control though, and it looked like their enemy was going to be caught completely by surprise. Then, out of nowhere, a voice cried out. "Move it or lose it you two. You're about to be bum-rushed by the locals." And with those words came the sound of an uzy firing into the positions of the unsuspecting troops. All at once Sean and Veridical jumped to their feet and scrambled into a nearby diner to seek cove. Meanwhile the soldiers took cover themselves and began wildly firing in an attempt to pick off their would be assassin. Already three of their number had fallen in first squad. The remaining two members had joined up with third squad and held their ground. Meanwhile fourth squad had zeroed in on the sniper's position and began pouring streams of bullets through an already broken second floor window of the building housing the diner.
"Hold your fire! Hold your fire!!" The colonel bellowed at the top of his lungs.
All shooting had ceased, even from the window. Then it began again with shots spraying out the front door of the diner. The sniper had apparently gone downstairs to meet the two targets. The platoon returned fire and did not stop. They moved forward in small groups. Heavy covering fire was provided as fourth squad moved around the back of the building to cut off any escape. Meanwhile second squad made their way to the front wall of the diner. All at once the firing ceased again. A gas bomb was thrown into the building as the soldiers put on gas masks. Second squad then proceeded to enter the diner as first and third followed close behind. The colonel watched with pride as his men used their highly tuned skills to carry out their mission. From the outside, he listened with anticipation after each section of the building was checked out.
"Where the fuck are they?"
All at once the colonel became very afraid after hearing these words. He quickly went inside to investigate the situation for himself.
"Sir, they're gone."
"What do you mean they're gone? How could they be gone? Check every inch of this place sergeant. Tear it apart if you have to, but find them. Your life depends on it," and as the sergeant went to carry out his orders, he failed to hear the colonel whisper the end of his sentence, "and so does mine."
"I have need of your services, Death. Are you not pleased at this news? Is it not your greatest wish to serve me once again as my slave?" Said Mr. Black. His tone was both sarcastic and harsh. He did not expect a response from Death, but received one anyway. It came in the form of a rather large amount of saliva which shot from Death's mouth like cannonball, and landed on Black's forehead with a smack. For his defiant gesture Black gave a nod to the three who had captured the skeletal figure. That nod was a sign that they should pummel their prisoner viciously. As always they carried out their master's orders with fervor. The sound of bones cracking, and resetting themselves permeated the room for half an hour. At that point Black waved his hand and the beating stopped. Death looked up at his former master to see what would come next.
"You have been away from me too long, Death. I have forgiven you for your attack on me at The Spire. I have even decided to overlook your new allegiance to the power that has yet to arrive. It seems kind of odd that one would give such faith to a being that one has not met before. Has it never occurred to you that the ghost was wrong?"
"He is right. The ghost sees what is coming and he is spreading the good news. You only fear it because you do not understand it. The idea of a being more powerful than yourself is just so foreign to you that you choose to deny it."
"I fear nothing. Not you, not Mage, and certainly not something that I cannot see or hear. You make this thing sound like some kind of god. Is that what you believe it to be?"
"It is a being that shall reshape this world. It shall put the wrong things right, and free all those imprisoned by the war between you and Mage. There will be no order, and there shall be no chaos. There will only be a world where all sides are equal, and they all work together for the betterment of the world."
"That is ridiculous. There will always be order. So long as I live there shall always be order. And as long as I live I shall crush those who would pollute this world with their chaos."
"What you call chaos, he calls individuality. What you call order, he calls a necessary evil by which we must live. For admittedly without order the world would drift into chaos and all would crumble in the aftermath. We both know this to be true. What you do not realize is that only by merging order and chaos can the world truly be set right."
"I shall never be destroyed, not now, not ever. Know this, Death. And as far as the nobility of this being that you follow, what does a being so powerful need with an army? I know that is what you have been up to. What will he use this army of the dead for?"
"I know not his plans. I am but a humble servant following his will."
"Bah. That is the answer of a fool who wants to believe so much that he explains everything by saying it is his god's will. Well this is my will. In the battle at The Spire I lost a Horseman. You shall become that lost Horseman. So I have declared, so shall it be done." With those words the remaining three Horsemen grabbed Death by his arms and legs and held him firmly upright. Death struggled, but had not the energy after the last beating that he had taken. Black walked over slowly. He had produced a vial of black liquid from his sleeve, and opened it. Then he forced Death's head back and poured the contents into the sockets where his eyes used to be. Black then stood back and watched as Death writhed in pain. Finally the struggling ceased, and the Horsemen put Death down on his feet.
"How do you feel Death?"
"I am fine, master." His eyes twinkled with the power of the Darklight, and with that twinkle, I could see the man that Watch had once been fade away.
"Good. The other three already know my instructions so they can tell you on the way. Now go seek out the boy. Carry out my will, my most trusted minions. Help bring me back to my former glory, my boys, my Horsemen."
"Well I really want to know about him. I could have been in the same situation as he is now."
"Yes, you told me. But why him? Why me? I mean there are so many others in this wing to choose from, so why hear the life story of a boy that you never even met before?"
"Does it really matter? I mean you seem to really want to talk about him, and I really want to hear about him. Can't we just leave it at that?"
"I suppose. We'll have to talk more tomorrow though. I am so very tired right now, and I have to be up early for work."
"I understand. Goodbye Mrs. Bell."
"Goodbye. Aren't you leaving too?"
"I have a friend in the hospital that I told that I would visit." Jessica's white lies had seemed to go over with Julie. In truth there was somebody that she was visiting, but it was Mark. For a while she just sat there, watching him sleep. She wondered what was happening in his mind. She wondered how he had gotten the ring which she had given him in the dream. Most importantly, she wondered why she had returned successfully, and not him. It was a question that had Jessica confused beyond belief. In fact, the whole situation was completely beyond belief. But it was real. That is why she wanted to know all about Mark, and that is why she had been visiting him for the past two days after her release.
Not much had changed in the wing during the time since she had woken up. There was a new patient down the hall. She had walked by all of the rooms in order to get a better idea of what her state had been when she herself had been there. There was something about the boy in room four-twenty that had given her a chill. She did not know why, but there was something about him that drew her to him. She decided to look in on him before leaving for her daily excursion. The excursion would have been a continuation of her attempts to piece together the puzzle of her predicament. She had gone to the scenes of both accidents in order to maybe grasp what had happened. Then she had gone and talked with all of Mark's friends. So far, all of her efforts to put her mind at ease had been for naught. No answers had been found to the obvious questions of how and why it had happened. Her task was made even harder by the fact that she could not tell anyone the truth about why she was so interested. Such a thing would have been taken as insanity, or as an insult.
Jessica made her way down the hall to peek in on the boy who had recently arrived. As she watched his frail frame rest comfortably on the bed she could not help but wonder if he was in the same kind of place as Mark. A nurse walked by and asked her why she was staring at the boy. "I was just leaving." Jessica responded. But before she left she had to pass the reception desk for the area, which at that moment, was housing a conversation between two nurses. There she heard something which caught the whole of her attention.
"So the new arrival went into a coma here? In this wing?"
"That's what I'm telling you girl."
"That's so weird. How did it happen? I mean..."
"That's another thing, nobody knows. The kid's mother lost track of him on the first floor, next thing she knows her son is in a coma. I found him my self, lying next to that Bell guy. The kid was hunched over Bell with his hand on the guy’s forehead. He's been out ever since."
"That is sooo weird."
Jessica had heard every word, and each word had made her heart race faster. She immediately turned around and went back to the boy's room. She looked long and hard at the youth as he laid there, motionless except for his breathing. All kinds of thoughts and scenarios began playing out in Jessica's mind. "Could he be there now?" She thought. "Could this boy have crossed over into Mark's world?" She tried to figure out what to do next, but her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of music being played. She looked back down the hall to see where it was coming from, but saw nothing but hospital staff. She turned back to look at the boy, but again was forced to look down the hall by the sound of a guitar playing, and the voice that accompanied it. Jessica could not believe her ears as she slowly walked down the hall. She recognized the voice even though she had never quite heard it sing. She recognized the tune being played, but not the lyrics. And when she finally found where the music was coming from, she could not believe her eyes. There, sitting next to Mark's bed, was a man. Not just any man, but the music man. The man who Jessica had thought only to be a character in her shared dream with Mark. The man was dressed almost exactly as he had been in the dream. There was no mistaking him. And he was just sitting there, playing a guitar, and singing lyrics for all to hear.
"I cast a spell of invisibility over us." Veridical replied casually. "Besides, we had a little help." The two of them turned and smiled at their newfound friend.
"Think nothing of it boys.” She replied. “A girl's got to do, what a girl's got to do."
"Well, thanks anyway." Said Sean.
"Who are you? I don't think I've seen you around. I would have remembered that, I'm sure." Veridical replied.
"I'm Katie.” She declared, as she extended her hand in a gesture of friendship. “Usually I tend to stay away from the battle lines, but when I heard about Mage's plans to shanghai you two, well, my conscience wouldn't let me stand by idly."
"How did you know they were coming for us?" Sean asked.
"You don't know?" The two boys shook their heads. "You two are the talk of the town on both sides of the war. Especially you." Kate said, as she gestured towards Sean.
"Me? But what did I do?"
"It's not what you did, but what you can do. You may not know it, but you are a very powerful young man. Both armies are trying to capture you so that they can have that power."
"What are you trying to do?" Veridical asked with a slight hint of accusation.
"I'm just trying to keep this blood-bath from escalating. Too many good people have been killed in the crossfire. I figure that maybe if you’re as powerful as you're supposed to be, then maybe you're the one who's supposed to end all of this."
"What power? What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you." Kate paused for a moment to collect her thoughts, and then went on. "You may not know it, but you have more energy inside of you than any wizard that I have ever met. You just don't know it's there. In fact you're so powerful that there is a rumor going around that you're some kind of savior."
"What do you mean, savior?"
"Listen, a little while back a ghost started appearing to certain individuals. It said that a powerful being would come to end the conflict between Mage and Black forever, and that it would make the world the way it was supposed to be. Most people don't believe it, but there a lot of us who do. Personally, I'd really like to find out if you are who people say you are."
"Hold on here. You're trying to tell me that I have some kind of power?"
"All those from your world have a power here. The level of power depends on your ability to use your imagination, and to be able to let go of what you believe to be real. Until I'd heard about you, I'd always thought that Mark was the most powerful. But in reality, it was just that he'd spent more time here than you have. He had more time to adjust, and gain control of his power. But I have the feeling that you are more powerful than him. Call it a hunch."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Think about recent events that have happened to you, Sean. Is what I'm telling you any more strange than the facts that you have seen?"
"No, but... How did you know my name?"
"People are talking about you. Anyway, I think it's time to get some rest. Veridical..."
"Josh. My real name is Josh."
"Okay. Josh, why don't you go upstairs? There's a couch up there that you can sleep on." Josh nodded and proceeded to do as Kate had asked. It dawned on him that she seemed to be ordering him around, but for some strange reason that seemed okay, as if his will was not his own. So Josh marched up the stairs and made himself comfortable on the sofa that she had directed him to. Strangely, he fell right into a deep state of sleep. .
"So where should I sleep?" Sean asked.
"You take the bed."
"But where will you sleep?"
"Oh, I'm not tired. Besides, somebody has to keep watch in case those goons try to grab you again." Sean smiled, and then proceeded to do as he was asked to. The same thoughts that Josh had had popped into Sean's mind, but for some strange reason, he did not care either. Kate watched Sean fall fast asleep, and then she began to laugh. She tried mentally note her situation, and what she intended to do "It's working. Black was right, no man can resist my will. They believed every word that I said. Their doubts were dulled by the sound of my voice. I have them right where I want them, and all that is left to do is make Sean trust me completely. It won't be hard to do. He's young and naive. His mind will turn to putty in my hands, and then all of his genius potential won't mean shit. Soon his good-natured heart won't care what's right or wrong. It will only care about what I want. I sometimes forget what that is like to have a heart. Mine left the day Mark was taken from me. That's probably why I could allow Sean to go through what he will. So I guess that’s it then. I’ve turned into a heartless bitch. And when it's all said and done, I'll have whatever I want as a reward." An innocent smile made its way across Kate's face as Sean wrapped himself around the pillow. He smiled as he slept and dreamt pleasantly.
Sean awoke to the sound of a loud bang. He opened his eyes to see that Kate was gone. Not only that, but there were four individuals floating above where he was resting. Sean's bladder relieved itself as one of the four men raised a hand and pointed towards him. Sean saw what could only be described as a dark light rush forward from the man's hand. And then, darkness.
"Silence! You have failed me for the last time Floyd. As punishment I have decided to take all that I have allowed you to have." Mage waved his hand, and the cybernetic arms which Floyd had possessed burst into a thousand pieces, and scattered across the room. Floyd fell to his knees in agony, crying out in pain. " Do not be sad Floyd. For your incompetence I have taken your arms away, that is true. But as a reward for your long and loyal service there is something that I wish to give you. I believe at a time of loss, such as this, that a man needs to be with his friends. Do you disagree?”
“Quiet!” Mage shouted. “I have one friend in mind who is just aching to see you. Do you know who I am talking about?"
Floyd looked up in shock at Mage as the realization of just who was being referred to entered into his mind. "Of course you do. Or at least, you should. I have decided that young Mark needs company. Somebody to talk to while his agony drives him insane. Therefore, you shall be chained before him, and you will never leave that room again. You shall be reminded always of the guilt of your betrayal. I mean think about it. You were his friend, and compatriot. The two of you had great times drinking together and talking. He even fixed you up with the girl that you planned to marry. Well now you two get to talk again. And with the help of a few gadgets that I have cooked up, you shall know his pain too."
"No... you can't..."
"Can't I? I have the power to do so, and we both know that. Besides, why should the innocent be the only one to suffer when the guilty can suffer along with him."
"Jack, I tried..."
"Tried? I’ll hear no more of this nonsense. Fear not for your absence from your post. I have already picked a replacement. You even get to meet him, again. After all, he was your friend too."
With those words the door to the office opened up, and a figure entered the room. "Hey, Floyd." Said the newcomer in a loud, and enthusiastically familiar tone. Floyd looked up to see what he thought was a ghost. In fact, it was something far more unexpected.
"Harry?!?!" Floyd exclaimed.
"Yep. It's me. What, were you surprised? Who else would Mage trust to take the job?"
"But... but you're..."
"Dead? No. I just went on vacation for a while. More of a sabbatical actually. But I have good news. I have a gift for you. You know how you sometimes used to ramble on and on when you were drunk? Well you won't be doing that anymore." And with that, Harry produced a bone handled knife with an eight inch blade. Then, he deftly swung the blade at Floyd's face. It connected with Floyd's left cheek. It all happened in an instant, but once the blade had passed through Floyd's cheek Harry twisted his wrist ever so slightly, and then cut through Floyd's other cheek. If Floyd had hands they would have been covering his mouth. If he had any balance at all, it was rendered non-existent by the pain. And if he had any words to say, they would never be spoken. For as Floyd fell to the ground in agony, so did a good portion of his tongue.
"Guards!" Harry barked, and two soldiers entered the room. "Take this thing to his new home. See that he gets medical attention too. We wouldn't want him dying on us, now would we?"
"Yes sir." They said in unison, and then departed with the broken body of their former leader.
"Bravo Harry. That is what I always liked about you, your compassionate side."
"Cut the crap, Jack."
"Very well. You know what I want done, so go do it."
"Okay. But I'm only doing this so that some of the pain is eased on Mark. You should have told me he was here."
"What for? Then I would never have gotten to
see the look on your face. That look of shock and horror. It's
not one that you show very often."
"That's because I'm not easily shocked. But you surprised me Jack. I'll give you that. Mark wasn't the only one who pegged you wrong."
"And you? What about you? Not only did you not ask for his freedom, but what you mainly asked for was money. I thought you were his friend?"
"I am. I'm just not a very good friend."
"Then so be it. We're both full of shit. Now carry out your mission. Who knows? If this new boy is as powerful as he's supposed to be, I may wind up letting Mark go."
"You're still lying through your teeth Jack."
"And you're still here. Oh, and Harry? Good hunting."
"I am Mr. Black, the man that you have probably heard so many lies about from that young rapscallion Veridical. As for what I mean, well I think we both know the answer to that."
"No, I don't. Why have I been brought here? Where are Katie and Josh?"
"In due time, my boy. In due time. You have a special gift young man. It is a gift that has yet to be tapped into. I have need of that gift. In exchange I offer you a chance to go back to your own world. I offer you a chance to escape from this war zone that I call home. How does that sound to you? Are you interested?"
"Maybe. Where are my friends?"
"Your friend Josh, as you call him, is at this moment being asked a few questions by my associates about some recent incidents they believe him to be involved in."
"Terrorist acts against my army. He has also attacked Mage, but that is acceptable. What is not acceptable is his brazen affront to my rule."
"What are they doing to him? Are they torturing him?"
"No, no, nothing like that. We have a legal system here, my boy. They are merely trying to find out the truth. As for your friend Katie, well she is another matter."
"She has been missing for quite sometime. I had feared her dead in fact, until that is, I heard about her inquiries into yourself. Then it was easy to have you followed, and you led me to her."
"Why do you want her?"
"I have known her for quite sometime. It would not be to my liking if harm befell her. She is like a daughter to me. Do you understand? Do you know what it is like to have someone you care about? Let me tell you, it can be a hard thing. You can go out of your way to be nice, try and keep them safe, but still they push you away. I cannot tell you how frustrating that is."
"So where is she?"
"She’s nearby. In fact she should be here any moment. She seems quite attached to you I might add. She went out of her way to make sure that my associates did not harm you when you were brought here."
"Did they harm her?"
"Of course not. If they had, they would now be dead. Now listen Sean, I have made you an offer. I shall teach you how to use the powers which you seem all too ready to deny exist. In exchange you shall use that knowledge to help me put an end to this conflict which has claimed so many lives. Then, when all is said and done, I will teach you how to get home. Is that not fair?"
Sean thought for a moment on the issue. "Yeah. It sounds fair. But how do I know you'll keep your end of the bargain? How do I know that I'll get home?"
"You'll just have to trust me, my boy. Katie
will tell you herself that I am a man of my word. All I want is
to restore order to my city. This chaotic existence has turned
my city into rubble. You might not believe it but in the city of
Morgan everything used to be just fine. The trains ran on time,
and one did not have to worry about being shot on a street
corner by a sniper. Order is at the essence of the universe, I
merely wish for a return to the order that made this city so
grand." Black was about to go on with his speech when the door
suddenly opened, and Kate stepped in. She immediately ran to
Sean and embraced him heartily.
"Are you okay?" She asked Sean, who was himself overjoyed to see her.
"Yeah I'm fine. Did they hurt you? What's going on?"
"Relax Sean." She said, as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Everything is going to be fine. While I admit that Black was overzealous in being protective of me, we're safe here."
"So you do know him."
"Yes. At times like these I kinda' wish that I didn't, but in the end he's always been there for me. So what have you two been talking about?"
"Your friend here has been trying to make me an offer." Sean replied. "It seems like one I can’t refuse."
Black's face lit up at Sean's words. "So that means that you have decided to accept. That is good to hear."
"Well what?" Kate interjected.
"I want to see Josh first. Hey, if I agree, can you forget about anything that he might have done and let him go?"
Black's kind expression faltered a bit. "I shall consider it my boy. But first we should begin your traini...." Black was interrupted by the sound of a very loud crash. The crash was followed by people shouting, rather loudly. Finally, the door burst open once again. This time it was a sight that Sean was not so happy to see. It was the sight of Veridical, stumbling into the room with bloody bruises covering his body. The young man staggered into the arms of Sean, and collapsed to the ground, barely conscious.
"Josh!?!? Josh, what happened?" Sean asked emphatically.
"Don't listen.... to him...." Josh replied.
Sean looked at the broken body of one of the two people he had ever been able to call friend, and something inside of him began to stir. He then looked up at the surprised, and slightly angry face of Mr. Black, and Sean's own anger began to build. The rage spread inside of him to every fiber of his being, and as he stood up from his seat, that rage began taking on a physical manifestation. Both Black and Kate watched as sparks of electricity began to build up around Sean's frame like the flames rising in a forest fire. The sparks grew larger and more intense until one could almost believe that a crack of thunder was imminent. That crack of thunder came not with a bang, but with the words of an angered boy who had not fully grasped the ability to control such a powerful emotion. "What have you done to him?" With every word the energy he released became more powerful. Then something snapped, and as Kate tried to get up the courage to say something, Sean's power exploded, and with it went Black's new home. A tornado of energy ripped the building apart from its very foundations, and when it was all over, only Sean was left standing. Floating actually, five feet off of the ground.
At that point he was functioning on nothing
but sheer emotion. Sean did not bother to think about what had
just happened, or that he had been responsible for the incident.
All he knew was that his friends were hurt, and he wanted to
leave that place. And so he did. He took them up, one in each
arm, and floated to the one place in that world that he had felt
safe. He returned to where it all began, the hotel room. And
then, he passed out on the bed.
"It can be assumed that that is the direction that the boy traveled, my Horsemen.” Black declared, as he pointed towards the sea of destruction. “That is the direction that you must take now in your endeavor to retrieve him. And retrieve him you will. I do not know how Veridical escaped to find Sean, but he did. I don't care how he did it, but you will make up for your incompetence, or suffer the consequences. Is that understood?"
"Yes master." They said in unison. And then they departed to carry out their master's orders.
Black stood alone on top of the pile of rubble that had once been his home, and his mind pondered the events which had transpired mere moments earlier. "That boy just overpowered me without even thinking about it. My Horsemen and I were nothing but bystanders as he destroyed my home right before my eyes. The blast he let loose on a whim was more powerful than anything I have ever witnessed. How can there be a power that great in this world? How can there be a power that can overpower me? Am I not the greatest force in all of creation? What could possibly stand against my will? Sean Patton, that is what. It is true then. He is the one that the ghost spoke of." Black looked up at the sky in search of answers to soothe his uneasiness. He found none in what he saw, so he then began to speak out loud. "Where are you now, ghost, I wonder? Ever since you came to me with your words of warning, I have been troubled by the words with which you spoke. It appears that you were right. But why did you come to me with this knowledge? Why must I be burdened with the knowledge that I will be defeated after all these years of near omnipotence? Was it a curse that you elected to place upon me for some ill deed?" Black was beginning to become angry with frustration. "I tell you now that I regret nothing that I have done! It has all been to preserve the order of things! After all, is order not the best way for things to function?" His voice became loud enough to hear for miles around, as his frustration increased. With his voice came an echo that bounced off of the buildings like a steel ball in a pinball machine. "You came to me once, oh ghost of Christmas future. Did you give me a vision of things to come, or what may come? Is it all predestined? Am I to accept my fate? Answer me!" Black shouted towards the sky with a violent urgency. Then he began to droop down in despair. His depression arrived to the point where he sat on the remains of his home with an exhausted crash and began yelling up to the heavens. "Answer me." He whispered into the night sky. "Answer me, please. I have to know. I have to kno..." Black stopped himself as his eyes caught sight of what he had hoped would come. The old man was sitting on the curb across the street, playing his guitar, and singing lyrics too softly to be heard. Black quickly sprang to his feet and dusted himself off. He then made his way over the rubble and towards the being that he had come to refer to as the ghost. Black knew not what to say next. For one of the few times in his lifetime he was at a loss for what action to take. In the end, the decision was taken out of his hands as the ghost spoke. Black had made his way to the center of the street when the words left the apparition's mouth. What was said never left the memory of the dark figure that had fallen from so high a position in life.
"You ask me questions expecting that you might get simple and direct answers. In truth there are no simple answers. What I told you before is true. There is a being in this world who shall set things the way that they should be. He will end the squabbles between you and Mage, and all shall be made right in the world again."
"So I will be destroyed." Black said painfully.
"Not necessarily. You view the world in only two colors, Mr. Black. Losing does not necessarily mean that you will be destroyed. You might be, and maybe not. What happens, happens, and I cannot say how it will turn out. You must do what you feel is in order. Then, maybe, you may get the outcome that you desire."
"You speak in riddles, and have given me no answers." Black declared
"Oh, but I have given answers. You just need to know exactly what question you are asking. But if it is hard facts and yes and no answers that you seek, then allow me to oblige. Young Mark shall be instrumental in the things to come." With the mention of Mark's name Black's eyes lit up, and his frustration turned into a spring of hope.
"Mark is here? In this world?"
"He never left. Right now he is hooked up to your machine, hoping that he will one day be free. Surprising is it not? One simply cannot know who to trust these days."
"Mage! That insufferable pretender to the throne is using the boy to strengthen his own powers as..."
"As you did, not so long ago.” The ghost said snidely. “Well, what will you do now?"
"With the boy in the machine my power would be back to its former height. If I could just take back my Spire then I'd have a chance against this boy."
"Maybe. But then, nothing is for certain." And with those words came a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder. Black looked back up at the sky and saw that a storm was coming. When he looked back towards the ghost, it was gone. Where the ghost had been sitting on the curb there was nothing but air. Black looked around, but knew it was useless. The ghost was gone. Still, Mr. Black had gained valuable information. Mark was alive, and more importantly, he was in the city. Black decided to find shelter as the rain began to fall. He would find a new home in one of the nearby abandoned buildings. There he would think on the situation at hand, and plan.
"Sean?" She said quietly. "Sean?" Her voice was becoming more adamant and filled with concern. She bent down in order to shake him. Her efforts did nothing to change his lack of attention. Kate began to get very worried. In fact she began violently shaking him as she called out his name louder, and louder.
Just as she was about to give up, he looked at her and said, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, Sean! Are you okay?"
"Why? Why?!? Well I have been trying to get your fucking attention for the last five minutes. I thought you'd turned into a vegetable on me or something."
"Really. What the hell happened? Last thing I remember is seeing you freak out at Black's place. Where the hell are we?"
"It looks like the hotel room that I woke up in before. You know, I think it's the only place that I really feel comfortable in."
"I don't know. I..." They both turned at the sight and sound of Veridical moving. "Josh? Josh, are you okay?" Sean said this while moving across the room to help his injured friend. Kate followed behind him with a fake look of concern on her face.
"I told you, you had powers kid." Josh said.
"Yeah, well, try not to say you told me so okay."
"Anything you say, little man."
"Josh? What should we do? I mean, somehow I don't think either side of this war is very trustworthy."
"Well, the real question is, what do you want to do? I mean you're the one with the powers, and it's mostly you that they’re after."
"All I want to do is to go home."
"Well, that's going to be kinda' tricky. You see the last person to come through here got home by using an orb obtained while inside the Mirror Maze. The problem is that that orb is in The Spire."
"So, The Spire is controlled by Jack Mage. He's the guy that sent his army guys after us. To get to that orb we'd have to get through his whole army, and him. That, my friend, is a trick easier said than done."
"Can't we just sneak in and out?"
"Ha. That’s funny. That’s a real hoot. Listen Sean, the only hope we would have of doing that is if Mage were only operating under his own power. But he's not. So unless you can think of a way to shut down that Pullson Siphon and unhook that Mark kid then..."
"Mark!?!?" Kate interrupted. A rush of hope had erupted inside of her at the uttering of his name.
"Yeah. Mark. Mark Bell, why?" Veridical said.
"He's here?! In this world?! Alive?!"
Kate thought on Veridical's words. Her heart began to beat a mile a minute as her mind began to scheme a plot that might bring an end to her emotional torment. "We have to get him out of there!"
"We have to get him out of there." Kate demanded. The two boys nodded their heads like puppets as she turned on her magic. "Listen up boys, I know that place. I've been inside it enough to find where we need to go. We are going to rescue that boy in there. We're going to do it if it's the last thing we do, understand?" The two boys nodded their heads again. Their will had been zapped. All that remained was the love of a woman for a man who's wellbeing meant the world to her. With her words she had drafted the two boys into her own private army. "Soon", she thought. "Soon, everything will be as it should be. Damn Mage for turning his back on Mark. I'll save him though. I’ll make things as they were supposed to be. Then Mark will have to want to be with me. I know it."
By the time the Horsemen had brought Floyd into the room, Mark had already slipped into a delusional state. No notice was paid to his new roommate. No thought was given to the fact that the man had no arms, and was trying to scream without a tongue. If Mark had been in a more lucid state the sight would probably have made him puke. At that moment though, his mind was elsewhere. He was rambling his thoughts out to the public as though he were speaking in his own mind. His thoughts were of another, and the hope that they would one day be together again.
"Jessica, where are you? Where have you gone? I will find you, this I swear. I will break free from this accursed place and then we shall be together again. Oh, what times we shall have. Nothing will keep me from you, and nothing will take you from me again. I will make them pay. They'll all pay for their crimes against us. They tricked us, and used us for their own petty games. Their war has destroyed me. All that I have left is you my love, my Jessica. Oh when will this madness stop? All those that I trusted have betrayed me, except for you. Why have I been cursed like this? My love is in another universe, and I am trapped here. What kind of sadistic creature would dream up a world like this for me? What sins must I pay for that I have been lashed to this infernal machine, and left to rot?"
"Quit your incessant whining, my boy. Things aren't all that bad." Mark scanned the room for the origin of the hauntingly familiar voice which had broken up his delusional ramblings. He quickly took stock of the fact that he was the only one to hear the voice, and was about to believe that it had only been a delusion when a sight came to his eyes that forced urine to shoot down the side of his leg. "Yes Mark, it is me. Mr. Black is back. And luckily for you I am in a forgiving mood. It is a rare occurrence for me to be so forgiving, so you would do well to take advantage of it. I am speaking to you in my astral form, for it is the only way I am allowed to at the moment. Sorry I did not stop in to reminisce sooner, but I did not know where you were keeping yourself. You see, it was only recently that I learned of your presence in my former home, and I believe it is time that we buried the hatchet."
"Fuck you! I don't know what your planning, but I'm sure whatever it is, it doesn't involve me being free at the end."
"On the contrary boy, that is exactly what I had in mind. Mark, I want you to listen to me carefully. There is a boy out there who could threaten to destroy all of existence. His name is Sean Patton, and I need your help to stop him."
"What are you talking about? I hate to tell you this, but I'm a little tied up at the moment."
"Listen to me, boy. I am coming to set you free. In return, I ask only that you help me put an end to the threat of Sean Patton. What do you say?" Mark turned away from Black and answered him only with a cold silence. "Do not be so hasty. After all, I could just leave you there to rot, you know." Mark still kept his silence. "Give it some thought. I am not quite ready for an assault on the Spire, yet. But when I am, I shall return. Then you will have to decide if you wish to remain in your misery, or fight for your freedom. The choice is yours." And with that, the darkly clad figure disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived, leaving Mark to ponder the situation. It was a troubling offer that had been delivered to him. Remain in a living hell, or sell his soul to a devil in order to find heaven. I did not envy his predicament. But as Mark looked down lucidly at Floyd for the first time, he could not help but realize the nature of his situation, and choose to do what he would soon be forced to do. As he made this decision Mark also looked at the ring on his finger, as it supped on the power of the Darklight.
"Soon." He said out loud. "Soon, my love."
Veridical began to dream. His dreams turned into shades of the past. They started with flashes of a childhood, the childhood of a boy named Josh Robinson. Then it moved on to a friendship that was shared by him and three other boys; Ryan, Tom, and Charlie. These four boys remained friends throughout their lives. Nothing could separate them. Nothing could stand in their way as they did as they pleased. Life was fun, until that night. The night that they decided to tempt fate one too many times.
They were driving in Josh's old beat up '86' Chevy Celebrity. It was painted white where the rust had not eaten through. Inside the car the boys sat on blue vinyl seats as they talked and laughed about past glories. The four of them had planned to return to Tom's house and enjoy an evening of football and drinking, that is of course after they cleaned up the mess from the party that had taken place the night before. Tom's parents were away for the weekend, and he had taken the liberty of throwing a rather successful bash. The problem was that it wound up causing more damage to his house than if he had driven a car around inside of it. Still, everyone enjoyed themselves. But there was cleaning to be done. Cleaning that never did quite get done. You see, there had been a problem with the brakes of the car. The problem was, they gave out. They gave out at a very bad time too because Josh wound up going through a red light. At the same time, there was a very large eighteen wheeler heading down the street, the driver of which did not see the careening car until it was too late. Needless to say, there was an accident. Josh had looked up in horror right at the moment of impact. He saw the bright white headlights bearing down upon him from the truck, and then, darkness.
Josh opened his eyes to see the streets of
Morgan. His ears picked up the voices of Sean and Kate asking
him if he was all right. In truth, he did not know. Because in
his mind all that he had known to be true had been wiped away. A
new identity had been formed. One that had wiped away any
control Kate had had on him. A plan of action was quickly
formulated in his mind. It was a plan to save that which he had
lost. It was a plan to save his friends. Josh sat there on the
ground without making a single movement, as his two friends
became extremely worried. Finally Kate grabbed him by his
shoulder and shook him violently while speaking to him loudly
and sternly. He did not know what she had said, and he did not
care. He knew what needed to be done, then he spoke out. "The
Horsemen are forever. I will free them, and then all shall be
put right. Everyone will get their just due. The Horsemen will
see to that. Empires crumble... millions die every day...
everything falls eventually, as everything should. But the
Horsemen are forever."
They had stopped briefly by the remains of a demolished building. Sean's power had left so huge an amount of energy that Harry had thought that they were right on top of him. He was shocked to find that he had been mistaken because of just how much energy had been dispersed in the area. "Be ready for anything, people. This kid makes a power plant look like a fucking light-bulb." With those words the platoon had moved on with their search. That search did not come to a head until they finally stumbled into their quarry on Main street. There were three of them; two boys and a girl. Harry immediately recognized the girl as being Kate, and the boy lying on the ground as being Veridical. He then was able to single out Sean and devise his plan accordingly. The last attack had obviously failed because of outside interference by Kate. That meant that Black had already gotten his hooks into the boy. Harry flinched at the idea because of what that could mean for the safety of the mission. He decided to charge the trio in force and take them as quickly as possible. Then he could figure out a plan to bring them back to the Spire safely.
It would not be hard to bring them back because they were not very far away from it, almost as if the three of them had been heading that way. But Harry thought better of that idea. That scenario had already been played out once, and nobody would have been foolish enough to attempt to take the Spire again, not with half the army sitting outside of it. So the plan was clear. All that his men required was the order to charge, and Harry was all too willing to give that order. But as his men ran across the street towards the enemy, another enemy made its presence known from above. It came in the form of a blast of Darklight, which sent the platoon scrambling for cover. The first blast was followed by three more equally intense busts of energy. That is when the origin of the attack became very clear.
With lightning precision the Horsemen quickly turned the elite unit into a scrambling mass of humanity. Those that took the time to shoot back were obliterated on the spot. The rest took shelter in nearby buildings before attempting to make their stand. All the while Kate and Sean attempted to get Veridical to his feet. The young man was still very dazed, and it did not look like he would be able to walk anywhere for a while. Finally they gave up and tried to drag him away from the field of battle, but their attempts were hindered by stray blasts.
"Sean, we have to get out of here!"
"How? There's no way out!"
"Use your powers!"
"I don't know how!"
"Well you better figure it out fast, or we're gonna' wind up like those soldiers over there!" Kate said, as she pointed towards a set of human bones that laid in a pile in the middle of the street. Sean looked too. Then he looked at Kate and Veridical. His attention was drawn back to the battlefield by another stray blast. The beam had come very close to slicing his head in half.
"What do I do?"
"Concentrate! Do something! Plea...." Her words were cut off as a piece of the pavement was ripped from the ground by a stray blast. That pavement turned into shrapnel, and it hit Kate in the side of her head. Sean watched in horror as Kate fell to the ground unconsciously. Sean looked around. He saw the battle being waged. He saw his friends hurt, and in danger. He saw the entire scene, and then he did something to change it. Once again an energy field rose up inside of him. The Horsemen, and the soldiers ceased their fighting as they witnessed Sean, floating into the air with Kate and Veridical under his arm. The boy crackled with a power that seemed to dwarf all those that had been used in the brief skirmish. One soldier began firing his rifle at Sean, but it did nothing. Then all of the battle's participants began firing at him. There was still no effect. Sean floated over top of them all, and created a wall of intense energy. His mind was on automatic. It was set to kill, and that is just what he did. The boy looked down upon his quarries, and a rage built up inside of him. A rage so intense that its power alone could have melted the sun. Then he unleashed that power, and turned the battlefield, into a graveyard. Sean pointed his arm towards the center of the battle, and then let all of his anger explode out of his body, and onto the people that had wished to do him harm. The blast created by the energy release left a crater a quarter of a mile wide. It was about a third of a mile deep, and everything human inside of that blast radius was dead. The Horsemen lay on the bottom of the crater unconscious. Their bodies had been virtually destroyed. Sean looked down upon them and spat on their helpless faces. Then he began floating towards the home of his enemy. He moved towards the Spire, and towards Mage. A battle was coming. Sean had not asked for it. He had wanted only be left alone. But, he felt that he would not be left alone. They would continue to hunt him, unless he put a stop to it, and that is exactly what he intended to do.
"Because I can see into his world. I know what happens there, and I know the pain that he has felt because of my actions. If I could take it all back, believe me I would in an instant. If somehow...somehow..."
"This is not your fault."
"Well damn it girl somebody must think it is! On that day our blood must have linked us. My head hit the windshield as well as his. Now I exist in both worlds. I wander the streets trying to maintain my mind to this world, but the other one keeps calling to me. It won't let me go! Not until I have set things right."
"How will you set things right? What are you going to do?"
"That is where you come in."
"Yes you, Jessica. He loves you, you know. I can tell that you love him too, and that is what is needed. That is the only way for you to get through to him. Remember what happened in the hotel room? Remember the mirror image that spoke to you? The image started to bleed because at the time you yourself were bleeding, in this world. When you found him in the mirror maze, alone and crying, he had been given a vision of what he was doing. He remembered his old life, and what had happened. The problem is that he denied reality. Right now he believes that he belongs in the city of Morgan. He believes that he has always been there, and that it is a separate world, not his own mind. You must help me make him understand, make him know that his belief is false. That is the only way to free him from his prison. That is the only way for me to redeem myself, and end this curse."
"But how can I get back there? No offense but I really don't feel like driving off another cliff."
"That is where Sean will come in. He must survive if we are to accomplish all that must be done."
"But what if he gets trapped in there like Mark?"
"Then all will be for naught. I can influence things when I am allowed to enter that world. I have done what I can, but without you, Mark will remain in his prison. His soul will remain behind locked windows until his eventual death."
"Well how is the boy doing? You said his name was Sean. How is he fairing in there?"
"He is doing well. Without knowing that he is in a mind, he has grasped the fact that inside the mind, anything is possible. The problem is that every time he uses his powers too much, his physical self suffers. On two occasions now he has unleashed enormous amounts of energy. He has no control, only raw force. At the rate he's going he may be dead soon."
"Well what can we do? How can we stop him from killing himself?"
"Well, if you want, you could try praying." They both looked towards the floor in silence. For a while nothing was said. Then something happened. Mark's heart monitor began to beep irregularly. A nurse came in to check on him and ordered the two of them out of the room.
"What's going on? What's happening to Mark?"
"I... I don't know, Jessica. He’s being held
prisoner inside The Spire, which negates the possibility that he
is using his powers.”
“So what are you saying? What’s happening to him?!”
“I don't know.”
"I've lost something." Mark chuckled.
"Very well. But I have a reason for being here. I wish to know your decision. What shall it be?"
"You want my answer? Do you really?"
"Well then, you shall have it. You get me out of here and I'll help you destroy that son of a bitch."
"Good. I'm glad you came to your senses." Mark began to laugh again. Black looked at him with a puzzled smile, and then turned to leave.
"We gonna' make some noise Black! We gonna' rock this mother-fucking boat to the ground!" Mark cried out, as he continued to laugh.
"Indeed." And as Black left The Spire once again he could not help but ponder Mark's state. It left him with a cold chill in his spine. A storm was brewing. It seemed as though everyone had their own little scheme. The question being, who would win? Black pondered this question. He did not know the answer, only that felt that he could not lose. To lose would be so uncommon that it was not even a possibility in his mind. He would either win, or continue fighting. To Black, losing meant dying, and he did not believe he could die. There would always be another day to fight, or would there?
"Josh?" Sean said. "Josh, what happened back there. What happened to you?"
"I saw something. I saw the truth in its entirety."
"What do you mean?"
"I am like you Sean. I live in another world. I've seen it. I remember who I am. I am one of the Horsemen."
"How can that be?" Kate asked. She was completely baffled by his statement. "The Horsemen are from this world."
"No, we are not. We had a much different life in another world. Somehow we wound up here after getting into a car accident. Once we arrived, Mr. Black kidnapped us, and brainwashed us. He made us forget who we once were. I didn't start to know the truth until that brainwashing was gone. And that didn't happen until The Great Battle for The Spire. The Horsemen and I were battling the invaders when Mark blasted me with a bust of energy. I was sent crashing through a wall, and landed on the street far below. The impact of the fall mixed in with the blast must have freed my mind. That is when the ghost appeared to me. He told me the truth about this world. Ever since then I have come to know my own truth as well. It comes to me in bits and pieces, and then forms in my mind."
"What truth about this world?” Kate asked adamantly.
“Forget it. You’d never believe it.”
"So what does this mean? What are you going to do?" Kate was beginning to get worried. She could feel that her spell had lost its effect on Josh.
"It means that I have to free the others. In some way, somehow, I have to make them see the truth."
"Truth can be a very deceiving thing, my former Horseman." The voice came from behind and above. It was Mr. Black, and he was floating down to meet the three youths. The two boys prepared themselves for a fight, but Kate moved in between them and Black.
"Kate, what are you doing?" Josh demanded.
"Stopping you from making a terrible mistake." She replied.
"What do you mean? This guy tried to kill me, and I told you what I saw."
"And I'm telling you it's all a big misunderstanding."
"Misunderstanding? To hell with that!" And with those words Veridical leapt at Black, only to be swatted away with a burst of Darklight. Upon seeing this Sean once again raised up his power and flew at Black with the speed of a jet plane, the impact of which sent the two of them clear across the city. Meanwhile Josh got back to his feet. He was in the middle of shaking off the effects of the shot he took when he felt a needle jab him in the back of the neck. And then, darkness.
Sean and Black flew through the air and crashed into one of the few remaining walls of The Dregs. They finally came to a halt on the floor as they both slammed into fallen debris, and began to catch their breath.
"This fight is pointless Sean. I am not your true enemy." Black said in between gasps for air.
"Then who is my enemy? It seems to me that you tried to kill my friend."
"I told you before why that was necessary. Was it not my people that saved you from capture by Mage's soldiers? If I wanted to capture you myself wouldn't they have attacked you first, and dealt with the troops later?"
"So what is it that you want?"
"I want your help. I am here to make the same offer as I did before. You help me with Mage, and I'll get you home."
"What about Josh?" Black let out a sigh at Sean's question.
"Here is what I'll do. I can't have him around here making trouble, so when I send you home, I'll send him too. Deal?" Black extended his right hand in preparation for Sean's acceptance of his offer. Sean thought hard on what he had to do, and then made the only choice he thought that he could. He took Black's hand, and then they both flew back to where Kate and Josh had been left.
Upon arriving Sean looked at Kate to see how Josh was doing. "He'll be fine. He's just a bit out of it. Probably from the impact of the shot he took. It's his own fault really. He was being too emotional." Kate made sure to conceal the syringe in her pocket.
"What should we do with him while all of this is going on?"
"He can stay at my command center." Black interjected. "I have a strike force waiting not far from here. With them, and your help, I'm sure we shall win the day."
"Let's do it then. The sooner this is over,
the better." Sean declared. And with those words, he entered
into a pact which I have always blamed on his naiveté.
"Yes sir." And with that his commanders went
off to carry out their assignments. Leaving Mage to contemplate
"What could have happened? I heard that blast from here. The shock-wave broke every window within five miles. Not that there were many windows left, aside from in here. How powerful is this boy? All my elite troops are dead! Harry is dead! What the fuck is going on! Not to mention the fact that Black's troops have been spotted inside the secured perimeter. Something is happening. I can feel it. But what? Is everyone against me now? Have I no allies left?" Mage walked over to an open wall and peered out at the city. "Look at all that I have created. Is it not glorious? The masses should get down on their knees and thank me for this glorious state. Instead they side with that sadistic Black. Why do they not welcome the freedom that I have given them? There are no restrictions but the few that I have laid down concerning myself. I have given them the anarchy that they longed for in their dreams. No more traffic tickets, or any other insignificant penalties for doing what they feel like. Everyone can do exactly as they wish. I have given them complete and total freedom, and they repay me like this?! Can I help it that there are those that would harm others without law and order? It is not my responsibility to protect them. It is only my responsibility to stomp out the last vestiges of order. I shall fulfill that task when I have destroyed Black. In hindsight it was a mistake to let him live. I should have made sure that he was dead, but who would have thought that he would survive that blast? Soon, though. Soon this war will be over. Then I shall take the time to enjoy the world I have created. Then people will realize the true nature of anarchy. Darwin was right when he said that life is survival of the fittest. This war with Black is simply an example of that grand design. It is survival of the fittest, and we shall see just who is fit to survive." While Mage was justifying his own actions to himself he was also drawing power from The Spire. More power than he had ever drawn before. Still, there was something amiss. He felt it the moment he began to take more energy than usual. What he felt was that there was not as much power available to him as before. In fact, there was a great deal less. He was about to investigate the matter when the sound of gunfire began to permeate the streets below. Explosions began to go off as well. From his high vantage point, the scene looked something like a group of fireflies swarming below him. But Mage knew better. "An attack has come! I must join the battle, but not yet. I shall meet my enemies on ground of my own choosing. Halfway up the building they shall find me waiting. Then I shall destroy them all. I'm sure my men can slow them down enough to give me time to prepare. Their petty lives will buy me the precious moments that I will require. After all, it's not like their lives have any real importance in the grand scheme of things. Let them die. I have more pressing matters to attend to. The final battle is coming, and I have no intention of losing!"
I was not the only one to see something horribly wrong with the scene being played out, but those who could stop it, did nothing. Kate had her two goals which she would do anything to achieve. That being, the saving of Mark, and the winning of his heart. Sean too was disgusted at the sights he witnessed, but was kept in check by Kate's spell that still had a hold on him. Veridical was too drugged up to know what was going on. He was slowly coming out of it, but not quick enough to utter a word of protest. So they all watched on as Black's troops and his Horsemen made short work of Mage's first line of defense. Then they waited as the assault was continued on a floor to floor basis. The Horsemen waited behind to see that nothing happened to their master. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, that is, until something went very wrong. By saying that something went wrong, it is not to mean that the assault was slowed, or even pushed back. Heavens no. What happened was that once the attacking troops made it about halfway up the building, which is no small feet considering its height, but at the halfway point, the assault ceased. There could be no assault without troops, and all of Black's recruits ceased to exist. That is to say, they ceased to exist when a blinding light flashed out from. The light turned night into day, and turned the battlefield into a wasteland. Those that had stayed on the first floor were not harmed, but they did bear witness to the event, which for the first time, showed the extent of Mage's power. From what I could see that extent was fairly large. In fact, I dare say it rivaled that of a sun.
"What the fuck was that?" Kate exclaimed rather loudly.
"It was Mage." Black replied nonchalantly. "He is challenging me. This could be easier than I thought. The fool has probably wasted all of his power taking out my foot-soldiers."
"So we attack now?" Sean asked timidly. He did not take to the idea of killing as Black did.
"No. You three stay here. I want to enjoy this moment. This shall be my victory, and mine alone."
"But what if he's not as drained as you think he is?" Kate asked.
"Good point young Kate. I shall take along my
Horsemen, just in case. Fear not Sean. I shall keep my part of
the bargain, after I win, of course."
"Of course." Sean said. His doubts still remained, but were put in the back of his mind by the soothing hand of Kate which rested on his shoulder.
"Come, my Horsemen. Let us destroy my old enemy, as he would have destroyed me. His arrogance has become his undoing."
"I don't know. Things are different. I'm not the same person I used to be." As Sean said this he could not help but smile. He wondered how his mother would react to his new self. He wondered how life would be different for him. After all, what is a normal life? He could not answer that question. From the moment he was conceived in his mother's womb he had been different from everybody else. That thought had never really registered in his brain until the moment he had begun to meet people without the stint of being autistic. As time went on his memories had made their way back into his mind. He realized how people had viewed him. They thought that he was in some way retarded, when in fact, he was nothing of the sort. His potential was merely locked away in a cage that normally could not be opened. All his life he had been held prisoner behind locked windows. But the locks had been broken, and his future was uncertain. Sean knew one thing, he could not wait to live again, for the first time.
"What's wrong?" Kate asked. Sean's expression
had puzzled her. She wanted to make certain that her control was
"Nothing’s wrong. I'm just... thinking about the future. What about you though? How can I leave you here? I mean..."
"Don't worry about me.” Kate said with a smile. She found Sean’s puppy dog loyalty to be quite amusing. She did not wish to see him hurt because of it. “Just knowing that your happy, and back where you belong will make me happy."
"But what will you do? I mean, when this is all over?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll meet someone, and we'll fall in love. Maybe I'll meet him soon too."
"But what about me? I mean...?"
"Oh Sean, what we have is special, but it's not love. Trust me. I know you feel strongly, but it will pass. Once your back home you'll forget all about me."
"Never. I may never see you again, but I'll never forget you. I'll never forget all that you've done for me." Kate smiled at his words. She could not help but feel a hint of guilt, but it soon passed. She had used him, but that use would soon be over. In the end, it probably helped him. At least, that is what she convinced herself of. Her thoughts were still with Mark who was somewhere in the building before them. Kate looked up at the massive skyscraper and could not help but get the impression that it was a tower. Some kind of evil dark tower that held prisoner only those that least deserved it. "He is somewhere at the top, enduring pain that I cannot understand. " She thought to herself. "Soon you'll be free, and we'll be together. I will make it happen. Then you'll have to love me, won't you?"
Sean saw the way Kate was looking up at the tower. He could not distinguish what her eyes were seeing, but there was something there that he did not like. He wanted to ask her what she was truly after but his thoughts were interrupted by the awakening of Veridical.
"What happened? Where am I?" Josh asked as he groggily attempted to get to his feet.
"Take it easy Josh." Sean said. As Sean helped
Veridical up he couldn't help but notice that Kate had backed up
a few feet.
"YOU!!!" Josh said as he pointed towards Kate. "You did something to me. You drugged me or something so that I wouldn't talk Sean out of coming here."
"I don't know what you're talki..." Kate's defense of herself was halted by the grasping hands of Veridical which were wrapped around her throat. Sean quickly and violently separated the two with a burst of magic, there-by sending both of them to the ground. Sean had become lost in a state of confusion. That confusion turned into pain when he saw a syringe fall out of Kate's pocket as she tumbled to the ground.
"Kate???" Sean said. His tone showed his confusion, and the pain of betrayal which became etched on his face as he looked her in the eyes. "What does this mean? Why did you do it?"
"Sean, I had to. You don't know what's really going on here. You..." Kate was again interrupted. This time it was by another explosion which seemed to tear a huge chunk out of the side of the building. As Sean and Veridical ducked out of the way of the falling debris they did not notice that Kate had run inside the lobby. Sean watched as she entered the elevator, but he did nothing. He did not know what to do. The two boys picked themselves off the ground and dusted themselves off.
"Josh, what is going on? Why would Katie drug you?"
"To keep me from stopping you from doing this."
"What do you mean?"
"Black is not somebody to trust. He's going to use you. Once he's won his war with Mage he'll take you prisoner and hook you up to a machine called the Pullson Siphon and use you like he used Mark."
"But why would Katie let that happen? No, you're wrong. Katie's my friend. She wouldn't do that to me."
"Then why did she drug me? I'll tell you why. She’s in love with Mark, the boy who is trapped up there. She wants you to trade places with him.”
“No! She wouldn’t…”
“Why not? Because you two are such good friends? Her friendship was all a ruse made up so that you would go along with it. Think about it. I mean why else would she have slept with you that night. I mean no offense, but women like that don’t tend to fall for kids in junior high. Right now she's probably telling Black that the jig is up, and..."
"Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh" A bloodcurdling scream came from above.
"That's Katie's voice. Something's happening to her." With those words Sean began to rise up off the ground and towards the area of The Spire that had become the battleground.
"Sean don't go! It's bound to be a trap!" Josh's words were paid no heed. Josh could see that, and that is why he too began to float up too. He could not let the boy face the unknown alone. So together they slowly made their way up towards whatever fate had in store for them.
Mage swatted them away with a barrage of magically charged punches and backhands. One right hand knocked out the Horseman in red, and a backhand quickly disabled the one in gray who had tried to use his teammate’s misfortune as a distraction. The blue clad Horseman had thrown caution to the wind and charged with reckless abandon. His efforts were met with the extension of Mage's left fist, which crushed the nose of the headstrong individual. Finally it came down to Death, who had decided to take his time and pick his shot. While Mage was still distracted with the other Horsemen, Death blasted open a gas pipe that had been exposed during all the fighting. Then he ducked under cover as the inevitable explosion engulfed Mage in a sea of flames. The entire room filled with heat as the gas fueled the fire that it might destroy the eccentric wizard. As the flames dissipated, Death rose back up, and gave a sigh of relief at the lack of motion. His relief was dispersed when the smoke cleared, and Mage blasted him with an energy burst that ripped his bones to shreds, and scattered the pieces across the night sky.
"Your gambit has failed, Black. I do not know what you had hoped to accomplish, but now you have signed your own death warrant."
"How dare you speak to me that way! Do you not realize that I roamed this world centuries before you were even concieved? I am the master of the Darklight, and you will never defeat me. Not with your chaotic ways. I shall bring order back to the city of Morgan, and when I’m through, I’ll have your head resting on my throne of skulls as I accomplish this task. Do you understand?" Mage's answer came not in words, but in the glowing of Darklight energy, which formed in the right hand of Mage. Black watched in horror as the power that he himself had once wielded as if it were nothing, was wielded against him. In an instant his chest was blasted open, and one could see his heart pumping.
"Mr. Black has a heart after all." Mage said,
and then he began to laugh. He laughed hysterically, maniacally,
as Black fell to the floor in a heap. Mage continued to laugh
until he heard someone entering onto the floor as the elevator
doors opened. He immediately blasted through the wall in the
direction of the sound. He heard an explosion, and the faint
sound of a girl screaming. He ran to see who it was, and if she
was dead. When he arrived at the elevator there was nobody
there. The hallway was empty, except for the sound of running
footsteps in the distance. Mage began to follow the sound. Then,
he was struck on the back of the head with a broken piece of a
wall. Mage staggered forward as he grunted in pain. He quickly
wheeled around to find that Black had gotten up and was
attempting to kill him. Mage took another blow to the head and
fell to the ground. As he fell, he let loose a hasty blast of
energy from his hand that sent Black into the next room. Mage
was about to finish him off when he heard another sound. Someone
else had entered the hallway. Mage scrambled into an open room
to get out of sight as he recovered his composure. "Whoever it
is," he thought, "They will regret this interference. The day
shall be won yet."
Veridical moved out into a hallway that seemed to stretch on as far as the eye could see. He remembered it well for it was the same hallway that he had traversed many times in the past as a Horseman. The entire building called up memories of his past life as a Horseman. The memories flooded back to Josh in a matter of moments. It was a disturbing experience to say the least. "Sean? Are you coming?"
"Yes. Just a second." Sean had seen something that looked out of place. There were scattered pieces of something white on the floor. He picked one up, and then immediately dropped it after he realized what it was. It was a piece of a bone. Sean could not help but be reminded of the first individual he had met as his new self. The hooded skeleton had entered the building with Black and the others, and Sean wondered if it could have been him.
"I'm coming." Sean began making his way over to what seemed as though his only friend in the world. He thought about what had happened since his awakening and realized that Veridical had been the only person to not betray him in the world he was in. This thought was put on hold as he paused to look back behind himself. He did not realize what was different until he saw the tiny white masses floating towards a broken window. The bones were being pulled away somewhere. It was as if the fragments had a will of their own. At this thought Sean quickly exited the room and made his way to where Veridical's voice had come from, but his friend was nowhere in sight.
Sean scanned the surrounding area, but could not see him anywhere. "Josh?" He called. There was no reply. "Josh, where are you?" Still, there was no reply. Sean began to become afraid. Loneliness had never really been an issue in his past life. He was always with people who knew about his need for constant attention. At that moment though, loneliness became a big issue. As he moved on, his thoughts began to trail to the fact that he was in a very dangerous situation. He had powers that he did not know how to use, and something was in the building killing everybody. Sean was unnerved to say the least. His nerves still had more to suffer through though, and they were nearly snapped into pieces at the sound of a strange voice that came from behind him.
"Good evening, Sean. I've been looking for you."
"Wha... who?!?" Sean spun around to see a man wearing a white bathrobe, a white T-shirt, and a pair of plaid boxers, standing in his path.
"Do not be alarmed. I mean you no harm. I don't believe we've ever been properly introduced. My name is Jack Mage, and I have an offer to make to you."
"What have you done with my friend? Where's Josh?"
"I know not of his whereabouts. Veridical was here, and then he disappeared before my eyes. He's abandoned you like Kate. But that is not what I wish to talk with you about. I have an offer to make."
What could you possibly have that I want?"
"We don't have to be enemies, you and I. I can show you how to get home just as well as Black can. That is what he offered you, isn't it? I thought so. Forget all the lies that have been told about me Sean. I'm just as good as Black."
"And that's supposed to make me trust you?"
"Ha, ha, ha. Well, you trusted him, didn't you? Or at least, you trusted Kate. Did you know that the last boy she professed her love to she betrayed to a horrible fate?"
"The word is that you betrayed him too. The way I hear it you want to put me in the same place that you have him."
"I could do that, or..."
"No, you couldn't. If you could have, you would have already. The way I see it is that you don't think that you can beat me."
"Is that right?"
"Yeah. You know I'm more powerful than you."
"Raw power and skill are two very different things, boy. You have the raw power, but can you use it? Do you know how to beat me?" Sean saw that Mage's hands were beginning to glow with Darklight. Instinctively Sean backed up, but he also began to call upon energies of his own. It was true that he did not quite know how to use his powers, but he was damn sure going to try.
They both attacked each other at the same time. At first it looked as though Sean had the battle won with his sheer power, but Mage fought back. His ability to manipulate both light and Darklight into the same attack caught Sean off guard. Sean was knocked down the hallway by Mage's counter-attack. For a moment Mage began to gloat while the young boy struggled to get up, but then Sean came at him again. Sean concentrated harder than he ever had on anything. All of his thoughts and energies were focused into his two hands, which he had clasped together. Lightning began to shoot off all around him as he prepared for one massive attack. Mage attempted to defend himself, but he could not. A wave of electrical energy filled the hallway like a massive tidal wave, and flooded its way at him. Mage screamed in agony as the energy connected, and passed through him in a stream that seemed unending. When it finally did end, Sean fell to his knees in exhaustion, and Mage was nowhere to be found.
"You've done well Sean." The voice said. Sean watched as Black stepped through a hole in the wall, and looked towards him. Black looked upon Sean to see that the boy's face had gone chalky white. He saw that Sean could not stop looking at the gaping wound that exposed Black's heart to the world. "Don't be afraid, it only stings massively."
"Oh, this? It was a gift from Mage. I am glad that you were able to dispatch him without too much trouble. He deserved it greatly I assure you."
"Where is everyone? Where's Kate and Josh?"
"I do not know. Were they not outside with you?"
"Kate ran in after the second explosion. Josh came with me to find her, and then disappeared."
"Strange." Black had intended to probe further into the matter when all hell broke loose. First, the building began to shake uncontrollably. One would have thought that it was about to come crashing down around the two of them. Sean and Black both fell to the floor as the entire Spire rocked under some unseen power.
"Is it an earthquake?" Sean asked as he ducked away from falling debris.
"No. There is something wrong. Something very unnatural has caused this." As the words left Mr. Black’s mouth a massive wind current rose up. Everything began to turn and twist in the air under its might. I myself was forced to retreat to a safer vantage point. Anything that was nailed down did not stay that way for long, and as Sean and Black took shelter in separate open rooms everything that had been sucked into the hallway came together in a spiraling wind current. Sean saw that the wind had stopped throwing things around so he stuck his head out into the hallway. He saw the spiral of objects floating in the air, and noticed that the wind had stopped blowing except in the circumference of the spiral. He slowly stepped back into the hallway, as did Black.
"What is it? Is it Mage attacking us?"
"No, I know not what it is, but his presence is not at work here."
"Then wha...?" Sean stopped as something exploded from the ceiling. He covered his eyes and tumbled away from the force that had thrown him a good ten feet down the hall. Then, the shaking stopped. When Sean looked back towards where he had been, he saw something incredible. There was something in the center of the hallway. It appeared to be a large pole made completely out of Darklight. It came down through the ceiling, and went straight through the floor. It was half the width of the hallway, but was placed in the center so his vision of Black was obscured.
"Sean, are you there?" Black called out.
"Yes! What is it?"
"It is the Darklight!" Black said. His voice had become shaky, as if with immense fear. "Some damn fool has let it take root out of the ground!"
"Is that bad?"
"Extremely." Black paused as he thought. "Come, we must find its source. Whoever did this must be above us. It must be stopped, or this world shall perish! Quickly Sean, to the stairs. I'm afraid that I know who is behind this." Sean saw that Black had took off for a door marked "stairwell," and Sean followed in suit. They began running up the stairs as though a banshee were behind them, and Sean could not help but notice the urgency with which Black had acted.
"Who is doing this?"
"The one who I thought you to be."
"What do you mean?"
"The one who is doing this is the he whom the ghost spoke to me of. I believed, as did Mage, that it was you. You have great strength inside of you, but nothing like the power that is being exerted now."
"So who is it? Black, who is doing this?" Black did not answer. His mind was somewhere else. He was thinking about what could be done about the situation, and he had no answers. They moved at a sprint up the stairs, taking care to avoid falling objects, which had been shaken loose by the quake. Finally, they exited the stairwell on the top floor, and moved down the hallway. They came to a room with a steel door, and Black hastily opened it. The moment the door swung open Black was brought to his knees by a blast of energy that had previously been thought to be impossible to make. It was a perfect combining of both light, and Darklight. Sean saw Black fall down, and then he saw Black's head lopped off with a second blast. Sean cried out in fear.
"Don't be afraid Sean." The voice came from behind him, and he knew by the sound who the owner was.
"Kate? What’s happening? Who's in there?" Kate walked up to Sean and placed her hand upon his right cheek. She smiled brightly and then kissed him on his left cheek.
"Relax Sean. The time for fighting is passed.
We're all going to get what we deserve now." Then Sean felt a
sting in his neck. He pushed away from her and saw that the
syringe was in her hands. She had drugged him just as she had
drugged Josh. Sean looked at her with pained eyes as he slumped
to the ground. "Don't worry Sean. It's all good. You've done
your part, now sleep." He looked towards the door, and at the
fallen head of Black. The severed head seemed to stare back at
him with fearful eyes. And then, darkness.
"Good. Then it is time to inform him of his task. Sean? Can you hear me?"
Sean heard the voices before his eyes could even begin to open. He felt groggy and sick to his stomach from the drug that had been injected into his veins. The first voice had been Kate's, of that he was sure. The second voice was unknown to him. It was not until Sean opened his eyes that he realized that he was tied to a chair in the center of an empty room. Empty, except for the four people standing before him. As his eyes began to adjust to the light he saw Kate's smiling face. She was noticeably coiled around a young man of about eighteen. Next to them stood a rather large man who had no arms, and was wearing a pink bowler. Sean's eyes finally stopped at the sight of the fourth man. This visage inspired fear in his heart, for it was the man from the burnt out nightclub. It was the skeleton man, and the skull was staring back at him.
"Sean. I need you to hear every word that I say, so please do pay attention. This is very important because I need you to do me a favor and not fuck it up. Okay?"
"I don't know who you are, or what's going on, but you picked the wrong person to mess with."
"Oh really?" The young man replied.
"Yeah. I've got powers, and I'm going to...going to..." Sean stopped himself. He could not get his powers to work anymore. For whatever reason, he found himself helpless. Fear gripped his heart as he tried in vain to call on some sort of magic, but there was nothing he could do.
"Can't use them, can you? You want to know why? It's because I say that you can't. You may have been powerful before, but this world belongs to me now. Black and Mage fought to control all the power, but they failed. I have taken it all upon myself, and you are nothing without those powers."
"What are you going to do to me?"
"Don't worry Sean. I'm not going to hurt you. But there is something that I need you to do for me. What do you say kid? Will you help out Uncle Mark?"
Sean began to shake with fear. He realized that he was at the mercy of the people in front of him, and he was in no position to argue. "What is it that you want?"
"I want you to do something for me Sean. I want you to bring someone to me."
"This person is very special to me. She means a great deal to me, but the thing is that I cannot get to her."
"I thought you were all powerful.” Sean said sarcastically. “How come..."
"Do not presume to think that you can be
insolent! If I want you dead then you'll die! Is that
understood?" Sean nodded his head. He was too scared to speak.
"Good. Remember this name when you go back to your world Sean.
Remember the name of Jessica Porter. I want you to bring her to
me. Do not tell her that I told you to. Do not even tell her
that we met. Is that understood?" Again, Sean nodded. "Do all of
this, and you shall save the life of your friend Josh. I am
going to send you home now, but I want you to remember
something. If you fail to bring her before me, not only will
Veridical suffer, but I will return your mind to it's former
state. You will once again become the slobbering imbecile that
you once were. Is that understood?"
Sean paused in shock for a moment. Nobody in Morgan City could have known about his past life, and yet Mark somehow did. It was a matter to ponder later for Mark appeared to be waiting impatiently for an answer. "Yes." Sean replied. "I will do as you ask."
"Good. Then off you go." Mark waved his hand
and a portal opened up behind Sean. Then, the portal moved over
and sucked him inside of itself. But before going, Sean heard
Mark's final words of departure. "Bring her back to me Sean.
Bring back my Jessica.
Ever since he woke up his thoughts had been on the facts of his situation. He did not know how to find the girl, if she even existed. By the time he had begun to eat his lunch all ideas on how to find her had been dismissed. The world was a big place, and he had been unaware of its existence up until the moment of his rebirth. So he sat there trying to eat the inedible as a state of defeat entered his heart. That is when they entered the room. At first he thought it was another doctor peeking in to see the "Amazing" Sean Patton. Then he saw that it was a young woman who was peeking her head into the room. She had a pretty face, and when the rest of her rounded the corner Sean saw that she had a body to match. Behind her was an old man carrying a guitar case. It was the girl who spoke first.
"Sean, my name is Jessica. Jessica Porter. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a minute?"
Sean heard the name and his heart rate skyrocketed for an instant. Jessica noticed that fact on the monitor, and by the look on his face. "What do you want?" He asked, trying to hide his shock.
"I just wanted to ask you something. Have you ever been to a place called Morgan City? Did you dream about it while you were in your coma?" Sean said nothing at first. He just sat there with his jaw hanging low, and then nodded his head to signal an answer.
The three of them talked for a while. Each
telling their story relating to Mark's world. Sean left out a
few parts though. A pact was made in that time. It was a pact to
save friends in need. The three of them would enter Mark's world
again and put an end to the circle of pain. They would rescue
Josh and bring Mark back to the real world. At least, that is
what their goals were. What happened was not quite what they had
scripted out. You see, each one of them had a plan. It was only
Jessica who had related her whole story, and what she intended
to do. The other two had slightly different ideas in mind.
Jessica did not find this out until later. Still, none of them
quite knew what they were in for. And as the three of them made
their plans, so did Mark reshape his world. He made everything
the way he wanted it. He punished all those who he felt deserved
it. He did all of this in preparation for the arrival of one
Jessica. And as he prepared, he thought about her longingly.
"Soon. Soon you'll be mine again. Now that I'm free, nothing can
stop me. Nothing."
"But sir, I have no connection to him. How did I get dragged into all of this?"
"But you do, my boy. You were there when I hit him with my car. You may not remember it, but you were one of the witnesses. Your autistic state clouded the incidents that happened around you at the time. However, I remember you. I remember everything about that day. My guilt has kept me from forgetting anything involving this boy. But let us forego the history lesson for now. Sean, you were able to enter with but a touch to his forehead, and that is how you shall guide us in again. Your connection is found in the mind, and in the fact that your image was the last thing that he saw before entering his coma. I shall utilize my ability to enter his world as my connection. I shall concentrate on that ability, and as we all gather around, we shall see if I am right, or if we're all insane." With those words in mind, the three of them went about doing as they were instructed. At first, nothing happened. Jessica and Sean began to feel slightly foolish and were glad that nobody was watching. Then, they all heard a snapping sound, like fingers being snapped directly beside their ears.
A nurse walked by while on her final rounds for the night. It had been a long shift, and it was almost at a close. This was at the heart of her thoughts as she made her way through the hallways of Morgan Hospital. The circles under her eyes told the story of just how much time the rosy cheeked young woman had spent in the hospital. She was clad in green scrubs, which she could not wait to get out of the moment she punched out her time card. Her short black curly hair bobbed up and down as she walked swiftly from room to room. She was about to make her way over to the main desk when she saw three bodies surrounding one of the patients. Seeing as how visiting hours were over, she called to them, but no reply was given. She walked over, and as she got closer, she noticed that they were motionless, except for their breathing. Their eyes were shut, and they were slumped over the bed. Jessica turned her head in a half asleep state just in time to see the shocked expression of the nurse as the woman tried to shake her awake. The nurse’s efforts were useless though. Jessica was on her way back in. So as the young nurse desperately tried to figure out what was going on, Jessica slowly lowered her head down next to Mark’s. And then, darkness.
Inside the city of Morgan, Mark stood alone on
the roof of the building known as the Spire. He had thought
about turning the structure into a pile of rubble, but opted
against it. It had become his home in a way. In truth, he never
really had a home in Morgan City, and any awkwardness felt
around the building had been dissipated with the presence of his
new love interest, Kate. He did not quite know why, but there
was nothing that he wouldn't do for her. His mind was analyzing
that fact when he felt something. He felt the arrival of people
from another world. "Jessica is here!!! She has come back to
me!! The boy Sean has done well. Too bad his efforts were in
vain. He shall never see his friend again. Wait, there is
someone else. There is a man with them. I do not know him, but
he seems familiar. His presence has been here before, only
clouded, as if he had been a ghost. Black mentioned that a ghost
had foretold of my coming to power. Could this be him? Could he
be the herald that spread my word?" Mark pondered this for a
while. Then he called out, "Horsemen! Come, my Horsemen. I have
a job for you. There are some guests which need to be escorted
"How so?" The Music Man inquired.
"It's as if the war never happened. There are people in the streets and in the shops. The buildings are all fixed up. I don't understand how this could be."
"Mark has changed it.” Said The Music Man. “He has made this world as he wants it to be. His power here has risen to the point that the laws of physical reality do not apply here. I believe there will be other things that will seem strange, or out of place. His mind is free to shape this world into whatever he wishes."
"If he's that powerful, then how can we get him to leave?" Jessica asked.
"That will be your part in this endeavor. You must convince him of the truth. You must tell him that he does not belong to this world, and that he must return with us."
The Music Man thought for a moment, and then walked across the room to the dresser. "This is what we need. This mirror is what will convince him. Both of you have told me that this mirror has powers. It showed you what you were like on the outside world. Jessica saw her battered self as it rambled in a confused state. Sean saw the fact that he had been freed from his autistic state. When Mark was in the Mirror Maze, he caught a glimpse of who he really is. By using this mirror we can force him to see the truth, and then convince him to return with us to the other side."
"So we'll take it with us." Sean said as he grabbed the frame of the mirror. But the mirror would not budge. No matter how hard he pulled, it would not leave its resting place. "What's the deal here? Why won't it move?"
"It is probably held there by Mark, which means we'll have to get him here somehow." The Music Man replied.
"But why would he care about this mirror enough to force his will upon it?"
"It must be an unconscious thing. This is probably where he entered this world too. Maybe he has an attachment to it. In any case, we have to get going. We have a long journey ahead of ourselves." And with that said, he walked out the door. Sean tried to move the mirror one more time but got the same results as before. Then he followed The Music Man. Jessica looked the room over for a moment as she thought about her situation. "I'm back. But this time I know what I have to do. I'm going to save Mark, and get us out of here. I won't let him die. Not like Nate. This time I'll do it right. I won’t let him down. I can’t." With those thoughts in mind she walked out of the room and closed the door behind her. The others were waiting for her in the elevator.
The trio went down to the lobby and headed for the front door. They were almost out when a man called out, "Hey there, young lady." Jessica turned to see the old man sitting behind the front desk. "You ever find that Bell guy? He owes rent money for that room."
"Actually, I'm on my way to see him. I'll be sure to tell him about the room."
"You do that." The old man said as Jessica
exited the hotel. "I swear that girl needs to get a hold of
herself. First she can't remember their names, and now she ain't
picky about the age either. These kids today...."
"What the fuck is going on?" Sean exclaimed in a shaken and almost mute voice.
"This must be part of Mark's army." The Music Man answered as he let go of Jessica's mouth. She had calmed down a bit after the initial shock. The three of them stood there for a while watching as people walked by the soldiers as if nothing was wrong. The trio finally got over the sight and began to move on their way. A pity it was a moment too late. One of the dead men noticed them, and their shocked expressions. Then he recognized Jessica's face from a wanted poster that had been put up at the barracks. He recognized Sean as well, and that was enough for him to inform his friend, and for them to radio for backup. The two corpses slowly rose from their seats and began to walk behind the trio at a safe distance, so as not to be noticed. As they followed, so too did others begin to follow, at a safe distance. Before the trio realized what had happened, they had been surrounded by the walking dead. It was at that moment that the rest of the city's populace decided to vacate the area in order to avoid getting caught up in any bloodshed that might follow. Then the realization hit the three travelers like a brick. The three of them turned around to see the mob of zombies behind them, and it became very obvious that something bad was about to happen.
"What do we do?" Jessica asked with a less than confident sounding voice.
"We can't run." The Music Man replied. “We either talk our way out, or fight."
"You three, hold it right there!" The words came from a corpse bearing the rank of Captain. Jessica wondered how he could say anything seeing as how all of his flesh had rotted away. Then she put that thought out of her mind. It seemed like one of those questions that she didn't really need, or want to know the answer to. Not when a dead man was approaching her with a pair of handcuffs. "You three will surrender yourselves to me by order of his majesty, Mark, The First of Morgan." With those words the soldier grabbed Jessica's hand, only to have Sean break his grip and send the dead man on his back. Immediately, all the rest of the surrounding troops trained their guns on Sean. The officer that had been knocked down jumped to his feet and gave the boy a swift backhand which knocked him down, and left a viscous cut under Sean's right eye.
"Stop it." Jessica yelled. She knelt down to inspect Sean's condition. He seemed all right except for the cut. Then she saw something that nobody had expected. Sean was beginning to glow very brightly with electricity. It was an instinctive thing which led to him floating above the ground. The troops began to fire their weapons at him, but the bullets did nothing. Jessica watched as the look on Sean's face turned into an expression of rage. Then she saw the release of that rage as the boy turned a group of soldiers into a pile of dust. The remaining troops fled the immediate area in a hurry. They did not leave entirely though. It had become apparent to them that their quarry was not someone to trifle with. Two dead men were sent back to base to report the situation. The rest elected to follow, making sure to stay further away than before. They realized that they would need help, and that is what they expected to get. Failure was not an option for the dead men. Their master had extremely unpleasant punishments made up for them if they failed. So they bided their time, and continued to stalk their prey.
Meanwhile, the trio of travelers moved on with the belief that they were once again alone, and out of danger.
"How did you do that?" Jessica asked. "I thought you couldn't use magic after Mark took your powers away."
"That's what I thought too." Sean replied.
"Curious." The Music Man said. "But that is a
question to ponder at a later date. For now, I think it best
that we get off the streets until the sun finishes setting. Then
we can continue under the cover of darkness. Let us enter this
establishment for a while." He pointed towards a building which
Jessica remembered vividly. It was a nightclub by the name of
The Dregs, and as the three of them approached it, Jessica's
stomach began to twist. She had a bad feeling about the place.
The three travelers made their way over to the
bar in the quiet section of the club and sat down on the stools
directly in front of the man. Jessica noticed that Sean was
slightly leery of the jovial fellow, but decided to ask him why
at a later date. "Hi Harry. What's new around here?" Jessica
replied. She made sure to seem extra friendly so as to get as
much information as possible.
"Just you three. Did you know that the entire city heard about that brawl you got into with those soldiers?"
"What do you mean everyone knows?"
"Things have changed since you were last in these parts. Nowadays it seems like everyone knows everyone. This city's developed something that one would only see in a small town. Imagine a city with millions of people, and everyone knows everyone. Kinda' freaky in a way."
"But how is that possible? How could people remember that many names, and faces?"
"Don't ask me. We all just remember. Heck, we seem to know before we even meet. So anyway, what are you doing back in town?"
"Well, actually I'm looking for Mark. Have you seen him lately?"
"Yeah. Actually he stops down here just about every day in fact. He's looking for you too, you know?"
"I know. His 'people’ tried to arrest us."
"You must be mistaken." Harry said indignantly. "Nobody gets arrested anymore. They probably wanted to escort you to meet him."
"No, they wanted to arrest us. They had handcuffs, and one of them beat up Sean." Jessica declared as she gestured towards Sean, and his eye. Harry inspected the eye and acknowledged the fact that it was a pretty mean bruise.
"If you say they tried to arrest you, then I won't argue. I wasn't there, you were. But trust me. It's probably just some mix up. I'm sure Mark will straighten it all out when you tell him about it."
"Well I hope so. Things seem pretty weird around here. Is he doing okay?"
"He's doing fine. Him and Kate have been living up at The Spire since he took over."
"Excuse me?” Jessica said, with an exasperated tone. “Did you say Kate?"
"Yeah. The two of them are an item now. Didn't you know?" Harry could tell by her expression that she did not. He was about to console her when something happened on the dance floor. The sea of people began to part in the middle, and four individuals walked in the path that had been created. Sean and Jessica immediately recognized them. It was Death, leading the other three Horsemen towards them.
"Harry?!?!" Jessica exclaimed as she sprung up.
"Sorry kid." Harry replied. Jessica turned
towards the bar just in time to see that Harry had produced a
stun gun from his pocket. And then, darkness.
"She will be fine, my boy. Mark would never allow any real harm to befall that girl. He loves her far too much."
"So that's supposed to make me feel better about leaving her behind?"
"If we had stayed, we would be dead, or in the middle of suffering some grotesque torture for his army's amusement. This way, we stay safe, and she gets to confront the man who we have come to save. Wasn't that the plan? Isn't their meeting again what our journey was about in the first place?"
Sean pondered the words that had been spoken. He thought about arguing, but decided that to do so would be futile. The girl was gone. They were unharmed, and free to try and save her. That is what Sean planned to do. He had decided to save everyone that he could in Mark's world. Sean's part of the bargain had been kept. Mark had not allowed him to complete his mission, and that meant that Josh was not going to be set free without force. That meant that all bets were off with the ruler of the land. Sean had become determined by the attacks upon himself and his new friends. He would do what he had said that he would do. He would help set things right.
"You're right." Sean reluctantly said to his compatriot. "I'll play along with your scheme, for now."
"That is all that I ask for, Sean. For now
though, it might be best if we laid low for a while. We'll let
Jessica take over this campaign for the moment. Come, there is
an abandoned warehouse nearby that I know of. We shall rest up
there, and wait for the right moment to strike." And with that,
the two of them trotted off to seek shelter. As they approached
the building that The Music Man had mentioned, Sean could not
help but remember it too. It had been a sort of sanctuary in his
earlier travels through Mark's world. He did not mention this to
The Music Man though. Sean no longer trusted him. There seemed
to be a hidden agenda which the old man was hiding. But then, so
She was attractive to be sure, and she cared for him greatly. But there was nothing there. There was no spark in the atmosphere when the two of them were together. He could deny Kate nothing, and yet, there was no real emotional connection at all. The question gnawed at his very soul which had only seemed happy around Jessica. The question was put aside for the moment when Kate entered the room. She wore a white silk robe that paid her magnificent figure great justice. She walked over to the troubled young man and put his mind at ease with a kiss. It was a long, passionate kiss that seemed to wipe Mark's mind clear of any thoughts that did not relate to Kate. When the kiss was finally over they stood in the middle of the room holding each other.
"So what were you thinking about that had you away from me?" Kate asked innocently.
"What do you mean? We're here, together."
"But you were thinking about someone else. I could tell by that loyal puppy dog look on your face." Kate replied as she pulled away from him roughly. "Its her, isn't it? You were thinking about that bitch!"
"Don't call her that!!! Not Ever!!" Kate backed up even further. She had become afraid that Jessica's presence would rupture her hold on Mark, and it appeared that she was right. Still, she sought to regain her control as Mark calmed himself, and apologized for his outburst. Her spell was still working. Kate could not help but wonder how much longer it would hold. She accepted his apology and they kissed again. This time Kate made sure to give the kiss her full attention as she also tried to exert some of her lost control.
"I know that you used to care about her, Mark. I'm just being stupid and jealous. That’s all."
"But there's no reason to be. I brought her
here to tell her to go on with her life. You know we’ve talked
about this before."
"I know, and it is sweet of you to do. If I were her it's what I would want too. But I think that you're spending too much time on that subject of thought. Why don't you relax a bit. Here's an idea. I have to go shopping for a while. Why don't you go have fun tormenting your old enemy. I know how therapeutic it can be for you, and when I get back I'll use some of my own special therapy to make you forget about all your worries. Okay?" Mark smiled at her. He knew that she meant well, so he agreed. They kissed again briefly and then he went along his merry way. This left Kate to her own devices. She knew that Jessica would have to die. It was her only way of keeping Mark. But she did not know how to do that without him knowing it was her that did it. She decided to ponder the matter more while she was shopping.
Meanwhile, Mark had made his way down the long hall and to a room with a single and very important purpose. That purpose was to keep a very dangerous man prisoner. Although, at the moment Mark entered the room, the man did not look very dangerous. In fact, the man looked barely alive. He had been beaten and tortured for several days. The man's clothes were in tatters, as was his face. Still, he was always recognizable to Mark. How could Mark have ever forgotten his old tormentor, the man that had created the machine which was now being used upon his own person. Mark stood there in front of the beaten individual, and smiled. He watched the Pullson Siphon do its painful job, even though its job was no longer necessary. Mark only used it to cause his prisoner the same pain that had been caused to himself in the past. What more just a fate could one imagine for one so evil? What other fate was deserved by Mr. Black? I could see none. Mark couldn't think of one either. If he had, he would have used it.
"So how are you feeling today, old man?"
"Oh, I feel...fine. You do realize that I will not be here long, don't you?"
Mark laughed at Mr. Black's comment. He
laughed very heartily indeed. And then he said, "Know this, you
will never know freedom again. From this point on you will do
nothing but endure the pain brought on by the Pullson Siphon. In
time maybe your heart will be at ease with the fact that there
is no hope of escape. In the end, I always win." Mark looked at
Black's sullen face as he said this. All of the defiance had
been drained away. "Were not those same words spoken in this
very room? Were they not spoken by you, to me, when the
situation was reversed? But know this, I did not make the
mistakes that you did. How could I? There’s nobody alive that
hates me enough to try and overthrow me! There’s nobody alive
that gives a shit about you! Here you have been condemned to
live out whatever life-span it is that you have! This is your
tomb old man! Enjoy it." And with those words Mark left the
room, laughing as he went. What he did not see, was that a tiny
light had begun to shine on the polished steel of the machine.
Black noticed though. Black watched the light intently. Black
knew something was coming. He did not know what it was, and that
made him afraid. So he watched, and waited, as the light grew,
and grew, and...
Josh was startled by the sudden appearance of his old friends. Upon entering the room they had seemed determined with whatever their intent was. Then, they seemed to falter. It was perhaps the only time that The Horsemen had ever faltered in their actions. The truth is, that they did not quite know what to say. It was as if they were about to ask for the answer to life, the universe, and everything. But the answer that they sought was much more complicated than forty-two. They sought to know the reason behind a betrayal, and that is something they would not give up on until it was understood.
The first to speak was the Horseman in gray. "We wish to speak with you. You have much to answer for."
"Why did you turn from us?” The one in green spoke up. “What gave you the right to deny your place as a Horsemen?"
"It was a post that I was forced into."
"It was your duty!" The one in red shouted. "How can one deny his own destiny?"
"It was not my destiny, and neither is it yours. Let me explain my reasons, and you shall know the truth." The three looked at each other, and then nodded at Josh. "You may not believe this, but we are not of this world."
"What do you mean?" Scoffed the one in gray, incredulously. "I think I know who I am, and where I'm from. Whatever delusion has taken hold of you must have completely fried your mind."
"Try to remember the days before you were Horsemen."
"There is nothing to remember. We have always
been Horsemen. Always have been, and always will be." Said the
one in red.
"Tom, try to remember."
"Who is this Tom that you speak of?" Demanded the one in red.
"That is your name. Or at least, it was your name, before we came to this world." Josh sighed, and then pressed on in earnest with his efforts. "Remember the time when we were kids, and we were all hiding out in the woods, as kids? Remember how Charlie tried to scare us with his stories about the man with the ax that liked to hunt children? You got so scared. Later that night we got him back by leaving to take a piss, only to return pretending to be the guy he had been talking about. He ran about a mile before we caught up to him." Josh saw what appeared to be a smile begin to grow on Tom's face. Josh knew that he was starting to get to them, so he pressed on. "Remember how Ryan used to have a tree-house? We'd all climb up and pretend to be playing, even though we were actually just peeking in the window of the girl who lived next door. Remember, she had long blonde hair, and great pair of tits. What was her name...?"
"Linda." uttered the one in gray. Josh's heart began to beat a mile a minute.
"You remember! That's good Charlie!" Tom was
remembering, and so too was Charlie. But Ryan still had not seen
"Do not listen to him!" Ryan yelled. "It is all lies! We are Horsemen. Always have been, and always will be. Let us away before he infects us with whatever disease plagues his mind." Josh's heart sunk as they did as Ryan had ordered. Both Tom and Charlie left the room. But not without looking back at him before going. Ryan looked back too. Josh knew he had begun to get through to them. He only hoped that the seed that he had planted would grow. He only hoped that they would come to see the truth, so that they might be free of the lies. And as the cell door swung shut, Josh began to pray for his friends. He prayed for the Horsemen.
"Mark!" She exclaimed as she moved towards him in an attempt to embrace him. Her attempt was shrugged off as he backed away into a corner of the room. "What's wrong? Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Yes I am."
"Then what's the problem?" She moved towards him again, and again he backed away. Jessica stood in the middle of the room in a confused and hurt state. "What's wrong? Why are you being like this? Don't you still…don’t you still love me?"
"Jessica, I do but..."
"But, I think I love Kate as well." The words made Jessica feel like she had been kicked very hard in the stomach. She had not lost an ounce of feeling for him, and yet it seemed that he had. Mark saw her reaction and could not bear to see her in pain. He walked over to her and put his hand on her cheek, but she would have none of it.
"How can you be in love with us both? What happened while I was away to make you betray me like this?!"
"I didn't betray you. I..."
"You what? Huh? I came all this way so that we could be together, and so that I could free you! Now I find that you've found someone else! How am I supposed to take this news?"
"I know you're hurt, and that you're angry right now. If you'll hear me out then maybe you'll understand."
"Understand what? You told me that you loved me! Was that a lie? Was that just pillow talk or some bullshit like that?!"
"I wasn't lying to you when I told you that I loved you. I still love you. It's just that Kate... she ...she..."
"She what?" Jessica was about to press further when she noticed something. Mark appeared to be in pain. He put his hands on his head as if a massive migraine had just kicked in. "What's wrong? Mark!!"
"I don't know?!?! I do love you but...Kate...she... Aaaarrrrrgggg" He cried out in agony. Jessica rushed over to him as he doubled over in pain. She held him tightly, and he held her back. For a while they just sat there on the ground in each other's arms. Then Mark suddenly let go. "I should leave now." He said.
"No! Don't go! You're in pain!"
"I'll be fine. I.... I have to go now."
"Mark..." But he was out the door before Jessica could finish. She tried to open the door, but it was locked from the outside. Jessica did not know what was happening to him, but she knew it had something to do with Kate. "I won't give up on you. Not after everything that's happened. I don't know what she's done to you, but I won’t give up." She said this so that it could be heard outside the door. She did not know if Mark could hear her, but she hoped that he did. Jessica walked back to the bed, and as she went, she began to cry. She took the pillow in her arms and held it tightly saying, "I'll free you from her. Whatever she's done to your mind, I won't give up on you. I'll never give up.”
"When are we going to do something? I mean who knows what's happened to Jessica? We can't just sit here and..."
"Yes we can. We can sit here and wait until the right moment." The Music Man replied. His demeanor was calm, and could not be swayed by Sean's anxiousness.
"How can you say that? How will we know when the right moment is if we lock ourselves up in here?"
"We will know."
"Do not worry about Jessica. As I have told you before, Mark shall never allow her to be harmed. He's still in love with her. No matter what Kate has done, true emotion cannot be stolen."
"You still haven't answered my question. How will we know..."
"There will be a sign. If Jessica succeeds, which I believe she will, all hell will break loose."
"And if she fails?"
"Then Mark will come looking for us. He knows that we are still out here, somewhere. It will not take him long to find us. Then it shall be our responsibility to force him to see the truth."
"And just how are we going to do that. I mean he's a lot more powerful than me."
"I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, boy. Believe me, we shall not fail in our endeavor. One way or another, Mark is going to go home. This I have sworn."
"You're not exactly inspiring a whole lot of confidence in me."
"Why don't you rest. You'll need all of your vaunted strength for the battle to come."
"I don't need to..." Sean's words were cut off when The Music Man looked him in the eye. The instant their eyes met Sean collapsed to the floor in a deep sleep.
"Have no fear boy. I shall wake you when you
are needed. I just can't have you spoiling my plans. Nothing
will prevent me from doing what I have to do. Nothing."
"Hello old man. How fare thee since our last encounter. Obviously, not so well. I suppose this was Mark's ironic idea of punishment. I have to admit, I kind of like the sight of you in pain. Tell me, how does it feel to be in the clutches of your own torture chamber?"
"What is it that you want, Mage? You would not have risked coming here if your intent was merely to torment me. You may be sick and twisted, but you are no fool. So tell me, what is it that has brought you to me? Or are you an illusion of some part of my mind that has snapped?"
"Oh, let me assure you, I am very real indeed. I have come here to offer you something Black. I have come to offer you freedom."
"In exchange for what?"
"You know me too well old man. But do not jump to the wrong conclusion. You see, I need your assistance. Only by combining our powers can we hope to be able to unseat the new king of the realm."
"What are you proposing then? An alliance?"
"Exactly. You and I shall join forces to end this insane tyranny which has befallen the land."
"And what happens when, and if, we are able to do this?"
"Then we go our separate ways. In all likelihood, we'll probably wind up back at each other's throats. But for the time being, I believe we have no choice but to become allies. That is, unless you like your present accommodations?" Black sighed heavily. He knew that Mage was right. It was the only way for either of them to be able to have a chance at unseating Mark as king. He really had no choice, and they both knew it.
"I agree to your terms. That is, provided you can get me out of here."
"No problem." Mage walked away from Black and towards the guards who were busy talking about a football game which had taken place the night before. They could not see him, nor could they hear him coming. By the time the guards realized that something was wrong, it was already too late. Mage had touched them on the shoulder, and they were as good as dead. Their skin melted off before they even had a chance to think. The rest of them fell to the floor as ashes before they had a chance to scream. Mage walked back over to Black and unhooked him from the machine.
"You always did have a certain style that I liked, Mage."
"What can I say? I enjoy my work. But let us be off. We have plans to make. There is much to be done, and I fear time is growing short." And with that, the two of them exited through the portal of light, and began to plot Mark’s downfall. It was an alliance that I had never forseen, and still don't fully understand. Losing must have been too much to bear in their minds. Any chance of victory was probably better than none, and they had more than one.
He did not have long to wait, for soon after leaving, Charlie came back. The man entered the cell alone, and in a nervous state. He seemed very unsure of himself, and that only added to his unnerving. The Horsemen had always been sure of themselves, until then.
"So you say that we're all from another world, and that we've been trapped here by someone, or something?" Charlie asked.
"Yes. That is exactly what I'm trying to tell
you, and the others."
"So if we're from another world, then how come we have all of these memories of this one?" As Charlie asked his question, Tom arrived just in time to hear the answer. Ryan was not far behind. The three of them did not look at each other. They seemed slightly ashamed at having been found returning to the place that bore what they hoped were lies. But at that point it did not matter. The doubts about their past had grown too great to stay away. They needed to hear the truth.
"We were remembering the roles that we played. If we were thousands of years old, wouldn't we remember things from the distant past? All of you, try and remember something that took place...say fifty years ago.” Josh watched as his three friends desperately tried to call up some memory, any memory, that could put down his claims. “Can't do it can you? How about twenty years ago? You want to know why you can't remember? It's because we weren't here twenty years ago.”
"That's impossible!!!" Ryan shouted. But Josh could see that all of them were on the verge of believing. That is when Death showed up.
"What is going on here? Death demanded. "Why have you come here? This prisoner is off limits for the three of you! You know that!"
"We were merely..." Josh tried to defend the proceedings, but Death would have none of it.
"The prisoner will speak when spoken to!" Death barked. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing with their minds but it won't work."
"It's no game."
"Then what is it? I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to make them believe that they are not of this world. That is ridiculous. They have always been Horsemen, like you used to be."
"Then why can't they remember being Horsemen?
Why is their memory so short if they have lived for as long as
supposed to have?"
"Silence!" Death yelled.
"It's because they used to be other people. They used to have families, and friends. They used to play football for our town high school. Remember guys? Remember when we won the state championships? Remember after the game, when we threw that party?"
"I said silence!!" Death was getting angry, but Josh paid him no attention. His friends were starting to regain themselves.
"Remember the night after? When we were going to clean up the huge mess? But we never got there did we? The brakes failed, and then the truck...."
"Silence!!!" This time Death struck Josh very hard with the back of his hand. Josh fell out of his seat, only to get up again. The right side of his face was red from the blow.
"What's the matter Death? Are you afraid of the truth? Are you that scared that they might remember who they really are?" Death could not take it any longer. He began to beat Josh severely. Lefts and rights knocked Josh around the room. He tried to defend himself, but was too weakened by imprisonment to put up any kind of real fight. Finally Josh fell to the ground, but that didn't stop Death. It only served to strengthen his resolve. Just when Josh was feeling he was about to pass out, the beating suddenly stopped.
"What are you doing?" Josh heard Death say. Then he looked up to see what was happening. The three who had come to listen were standing in Death's way. They were protecting Josh from further harm. Josh slowly got to his feet in order to stand with his friends. Whatever brainwashing had been done to them, it was gone. Death stood across the room with his jaw wide open. He could not believe what was happening. The true Horsemen were reuniting, and their pent up frustrations about their situations were aimed at him.
When he found her, Jessica was asleep once again. She had cried herself to sleep, as she had curled herself into a ball in the middle of the bed. Mark walked across the room taking great care not to make a sound. She seemed so peaceful while sleeping. The serenity seemed to spread like a malignant tumor that begged for the young man to keep it alive. Mark carefully sat down at the foot of the bed and reached out his hand towards her. He caressed her long brown hair with the tips of his fingers. Mark could not help but remember how he had saddened her before with the words that he had not meant to speak. In retrospect they seemed more like rehearsed lines that he had spit out in a desperate effort to obey Kate’s wishes. He regretted the fact that he had caused Jessica pain and wished to take it all back. As he wondered if such a feat were possible, she woke up, yawning as her eyes slowly opened. The moment she realized that Mark was there, she flinched from his touch, and scrambled to the other side of the bed.
"What are you doing?" Jessica said. Then she regretted her actions, for she saw the hurt look on Mark's face.
"I was just...I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Are you... okay?"
"I don't know. It depends."
"On whether or not you can tell me why you've been acting the way that you have been."
"I don't understand what you mean?"
"Yes you do. I know you. This isn't you. The Mark I knew wouldn't have sent people to attack my friends, and he wouldn't have had me kidnapped. What happened to you while I was away? What made you so callous?"
"I admit that I was overzealous but..."
"Overzealous?!?! You had Harry zap me with a fucking stun gun!"
"That's another thing, when did she come into the picture?"
"She helped free me from the Pullson Siphon. I'd been trapped there ever since you left me behind."
"I didn't leave you behind!?! I tried to get you to leave with me, remember? It was Mage that convinced you to stay and help him destroy that machine."
"No! That's wrong... that isn't"..."
"Isn't what? That's how it happened! Don't you remember?"
"You must be lying. Kate told me...she told me… she aaaarrrrrrgggg" Mark doubled over in pain again. Once again Jessica rushed to his aid, but as she did the door opened.
"What is happening hear?!?!?" Kate shouted, as she rushed into the room. She immediately took stock of the situation and violently shoved Jessica away from Mark. Then, Kate took hold of him and began kissing him. Jessica watched as Mark calmed down as the pain subsided. It became obvious to Jessica what was happening. Kate was using some kind of love spell on Mark that revolved around the act of physical contact. Kate looked at the competition and said to Mark, "You see what I told you? All she can ever do is cause you pain. She practically handed you over to Mage before, and now she's trying to separate us. Come on, we're leaving." And with that, Kate dragged Mark out of the room by his arm. The door slammed shut behind them, and Jessica was once again alone. But this time she did not cry. She had found the reason behind Mark's change. It was Kate. So Jessica began to plan what to do next. She knew Mark would return again. She just had to find a way to break Kate's spell.
"What do you think you are doing?” Death said, with a noticable hint of fear in his voice. “I am your leader, am I not?!?"
"It's over, Death!" Josh said defiantly. "I've erased the brainwashing. They remember who they really are, and what they have to do."
"Oh really? And just what is it that they have to do? Hmmm?" Death looked at the quartet with a false expression of confidence. It was his last defense against them. He was trying to intimidate them, but his expression did not hold when he saw what was happening to his former Horsemen. They had always been middle-aged men in his eyes. What took place next put down any doubts as to who they knew themselves to be. First, they slowly grew younger. This sight sent Death into a state of utter shock. He watched as their wrinkles disappeared, and as their hair became fuller, and darker. Then, their beards faded away, leaving behind the faces of young men, and their once dead eyes came to life. Finally, as the four Horsemen stood side by side, a strange light seemed to grow around them. The light quickly changed to lightning. Death was reminded of the displays of power by young Sean, and the memory did not comfort him at all.
Death waited no longer. He hastily raised both of his arms and began pouring Darklight energy at all of them at once. Every ounce of his strength was used in one big effort to try and finish the inevitable battle before it even started. A pity for him that when the smoke cleared, his efforts proved to be useless. Not only were they still standing, but the energy surrounding them seemed to have grown immensely, almost as if they had drawn in the energy that he had sent out. They began to slowly float into the air, and then hovered about two feet off of the ground. Their eyes were focused on Death as he began to cringe by the door.
"Your time is over, Death" Josh declared. "My friends and I have been the pawns of others for too long! It's our time now! We will do what we want, when we want! Right now, we want to end your reign of terror!"
"What reign of terror?" Death asked. "I know not of what you speak?"
"Don't play stupid with us. First you were Black's lackey. Sure, you showed a brief moment of nobility during The Battle for The Spire, but that was merely a revenge trip. Then, you created the acid rain, which killed countless innocents. How many people died for you to create your army? How many people had to suffer so that you might get in the good graces of our current king?"
"I did what I had to do! I feel no guilt for my actions! Those that died were but merely cattle. Besides, our ruler put everything right. He re-created all those that died to join my army."
"And that's supposed to make it all better?!?!? Well Mark's actions do not counter your atrocities! The blood of the innocent will be avenged!!!" And with that, each Horsemen raised an arm, and each arm released a part of the energy which seemed to engulf the four of them like a black shroud. Death stood helpless before the blast that tore through him like a hot knife through butter. His body shattered into a million pieces as it slammed through the door, and several walls as well. The Horsemen floated through the holes created by the blast and stopped just outside the exterior walls of the building. That is where they saw Death, already reformed.
"You think I'm that easy to kill?" Death declared. "Black couldn't kill me, and he created you! Now that I have received powers from Mark as well, I have become immortal. I am the ruler of the dead, and my army will hunt you down like the insignificant bugs that you are!!"
"We look forward to ramming those words straight into the empty space where your stomach used to be." Replied Josh. Then the Horsemen fired once more, scattering Death throughout the night sky.
"She can't be as bad as you're telling me!” Mark declared. “How can you know that she set out to see me suffer?"
"I know what I know.” Kate retorted. “Don't you trust me? Well, don't you?!?"
"I....I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know??!!? Wasn't it I that set you free after she left you in the hands of Mage? Haven't I been good to you ever since the day of your emancipation?"
"But I still love her."
"What!!!! How can you say that? How do you know how you feel? I tell you how you feel!"
"What do you mean? Kate, what did you mean by that. Don't turn your back on me Kate!"
"Forget about it."
"No, I want an answer! What did you mean by what you said!"
"Don't Oh Mark me! Jessica was right. What have you been doing to me?!? What spell have you been using to cloud my mind? Jessicaaa!" As Mark spoke her name Jessica backed up, and the door swung open. "You were right." Mark said as he rushed to her. He took hold of her tightly and she held him as well. Kate saw what was happening and could not take the sight of it. She ran into the room and jumped onto Mark's back, sending them all crashing to the floor.
"You don't love her, you love me!!! You Love Meeee!" Kate screamed. She held Mark tightly as she rapped herself around him. "Forget about her." She said, over and over again. Jessica tried desperately to separate the two of them with no success. Meanwhile, Mark was losing his mind. He was torn by his true feelings and the false ones which had been implanted in him. In the end, there was only one result which could have happened. Mark inevitably broke.
"AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGG" It was a scream heard throughout the city of Morgan. It was also visible in the fact that as Mark broke, so too did his control over the energy known as The Darklight. The Spire shook as The Darklight flooded to escape its long imprisonment. An earthquake ripped through the city which had become so peaceful as of late. That peace was no more, and that fact was met with mixed emotions.
Outside The Spire, The Horsemen watched as the city began to shake, and buildings began to crumble. They saw the Darklight shoot out from the roof of the building, and shuddered at the image.
Death saw the explosion as well. He took it as a sign that the end was near. His army of corpses flocked to his side in preparation for the campaign ahead.
Black and Mage flew up into the sky in order
to get a better look, as they were themselves on the other side
of town. "My beautiful Darklight is free." Black declared. "We
must take steps to harness its power. Then we shall lay our
enemies to waste."
Meanwhile, in the warehouse, the release of the Darklight shook Sean awake. He sat up and looked towards The Music Man in shock. The Music Man turned his head, ever so slowly, towards the boy. Then he said, " It is time."
Kate scrambled to her feet and ran for the door. She knew that Mark had lost his control, and that fact scared her out of her wits. The once confident seductress was reduced to being a frightened mess of a human being as she sprinted full blast towards the stairwell and down the steps of the building that seemed as though it could fall at any moment. No rational thought was able to reach her mind until she was fifteen floors down. That was when the shaking had stopped. At that point all Kate could do was to collapse on the ground and try to catch her breath. In reality, I can understand her situation. She had just lost a great deal of power. In fact, she had just lost a world. She realized that Mark's reign was over, and that something radically different was going to take his place. The only person who had been controlling the immense power of the Darklight had been lost to her. She began to try to piece together her situation.
"Mark is gone. That bitch stole him from me! How could this happen? How could he forget how we feel about each other? It's all her fault! Everything was fine until that whore came along and ruined everything! I'll make her pay! I'll make them both pay! But, how can I? I can't control him anymore, and the only other two people to control the Darklight are gone. Black is a beaten up mess, and Mage is dea..."
"Not dead. Just waiting for the right moment to reappear." Kate sat in a shocked state. At first she believed that she had thought those words herself, only in Mage's voice. She did not see how he could have possibly been alive. "It is me Kate. Mage. I have come back to set the world as it should be."
"But how? Where have you been?"
"These are questions for later. Right now I believe there is a more pressing matter at hand. There is a common goal that you, me, and an associate of mine share. Do you truly wish to take the revenge that your heart cries out for?"
"Yes. More than anything."
"Good. Come to me then. Come to The Dregs, and all will be explained." Kate thought for a moment about what had just happened, and then she got to her feet. She left the Spire and headed straight for the nightclub that she loved so much. As she walked, she could not help but smile on the possibilities that were developing.
Meanwhile, Jessica had chosen an entirely different course of action. She chose to stay. She too was frightened by the tumultuous scene surrounding her, but fear was only the second strongest emotion that guided her actions. Jessica quickly crawled towards Mark. So as Kate ran out the door, Jessica took hold of Mark, and did not stop holding him until the shaking had stopped. At first, Mark kept on screaming. Then his screams died down as she rocked him back and forth, hugging him tightly. Eventually Mark calmed, and then for a while all they did was to sit there on the floor. No words needed to be spoken for their thoughts were self evident. The battle between Kate and Jessica was over. Kate's spell had been washed away. All that was left was his true feelings, and that was all that Jessica had wanted.
"I'm so sorry." Mark said. He looked completely exhausted, and there seemed to be very little strength left inside of him. "I failed you."
"Don't talk like that. "Jessica replied. "You did nothing of the sort. It wasn't your fault, Mark. She had you under a spell."
"But I should have fought harder. I should have..."
"Sshhhh. Don't talk now." Jessica looked around at the shattered building and began to feel uneasy. The Darklight would probably start attacking again soon, and they both knew it. "C'mon. Let's get out of here. This place isn’t safe to be in anymore. It feels like it’s going to come crashing down at any minute."
"Where will we go?"
"I know of a place. It’s not far. We can rest up, and talk."
"The time has come. My time has finally arrived. My army shall rise again. I created it, and I shall take control of it. Mark and his visions of peace are finished. Mage would have loved this scene. The people have gone completely ape-shit. If he weren't dead I'd say it was his handiwork, but he is gone. Black is probably free though. That is, if the blast did not kill him. There is nothing to stand in my way now. It shall be my turn to reign as the supreme power. All that I need do is re-animate my army.” Death raised his hands high up into the air. He began chanting very softly. Then, the chanting grew increasingly louder, and louder. It got to the point where the people on the streets far below could hear the being known as Death as he screamed. When he was done, he looked downward, and smiled at his handiwork. He smiled as the corpses began to rise up from the ground, and as even more dead rose out of their graves as well. “There. Now that is more like it. Rise my faithful followers. Rise, and give me more soldiers. Turn this city into a giant graveyard. We shall harvest this world of all of its precious flesh, and then I shall rule it forever. In time, I shall find new worlds to conquer, and new flesh to enslave. But for now, it is time to cure this world. It is time to rid it of its most putrid infestation, life." Death could not help but smile as he saw his army obeying his will. They did so with a fervor that they probably never had in life. The walking dead were driven by the will of one who was hell-bent on revenge. The problem was, he did not know who to take out his frustrations on. So he decided to take it out on everyone.
The Darklight did not concern Death, because he believed himself to be immortal. He had forgotten any and all ties he once had to the living. One could say, he had gone completely insane. But Death would disagree. Of course, he would also probably kill that person where they stood, but that is besides the point. The city was in turmoil, and those that could stop the madness were too preoccupied to treat it as an immediate danger.
Now I shall speak of The Horsemen. They had witnessed the release of The Darklight and were not too thrilled about it. The aftermath of its explosive release had left them quite the worse for wear. To be more specific, a large chunk of the building known as The Spire had fallen on top of them. It took a while, but they eventually regained consciousness. Then they slowly dug themselves out.
"Is everyone all right?" Josh asked, as they all climbed out from beneath the rubble. The other Horsemen acknowledged their weariness, but were fine except for that. Josh looked around to see what had happened. He saw the corner of the building had fallen on them. Then he spun around as he heard children screaming. A platoon of zombies was chasing a group of schoolchildren. There was no time to save the little ones from having their throats slashed with bayonets, but the youths were avenged. The Horsemen took aim with their energies and incinerated the troops in quick and orderly fashion. Then the children were incinerated as well. It would not have been prudent to let their corpses rise up and harm anyone else.
Josh thought on the event that had just taken place, and then he decided to take a look at what was happening in the city from a bird's eye view. So the four of them rose off the ground and up towards the clouds. Once the situation was revealed, Josh could not help but puke his guts out. Zombies were attacking people everywhere. The city streets looked like one giant battlefield. None were spared its harshness and brutality. It was not a pleasant sight.
"We have to stop this!” Josh declared to his
friends, as he wiped the puke from his mouth. “ This madness
On the way to The Dregs Kate noticed that there was a large commotion coming from all directions. She did not know what to make of it, only that the quakes must have scared the people of Morgan into rampaging through the streets. In a way it made sense, but then she saw the true fuel behind their fear. The Army of The Dead had somehow managed to re-animate themselves, and they were on a killing spree. Kate watched from behind a building as entire families were slaughtered by the ghouls. No mercy was shown whatsoever. The victims were surrounded and then feasted upon by the once peaceful undead. It was a sight Kate wished she had not seen, and it was yet another reason to continue upon her journey.
After taking various back roads in order to avoid the zombies, Kate finally made it to her destination. The Dregs had been her favorite place to unwind. On this occasion however, there were other matters to attend to. She walked in the front door to be greeted by Floyd, the doorman. In the past they had been on friendly terms, but for some reason Floyd did not smile as she entered. He looked as if his mind had been replaced with that of a robot. His expression was both cold, and unwelcoming.
"Hey Kate." Kate turned to see that Harry was standing in the middle of the large room. He was in his usual mood of joviality.
"What's going on here, Harry?"
"Jack's in the other room with his new friend."
"I'm not supposed to say a word. You're supposed to go in the moment you arrive. Jack will explain everything."
She strolled over to the smaller room in the club which housed Harry's bar. There she was met by a sight which nearly knocked her off of her feet.
"Hello young Kate." Black said. "It's so nice to see you again after all this time. Lift your chin off the floor girl, I'm not going to hurt you. My partner and I have need of you."
"What is it that you could possibly need me for? I mean, in case you hadn't noticed Mark has fallen out of my control." Kate replied with a hint of remorse.
"True," Black said. "but you were connected to him. In the time the two of you spent together he allowed you the use of The Darklight. That means now you too have the ability to harness it in a way."
"We have a proposition for you Kate." Mage declared. His usual casualness was making Kate slightly nervous. Kate had always observed it, but a person should not always be calm. For whatever reason, Mage was calm. That fact scared Kate in a way she could not fully express. Still, she listened to his proposal. "We wish to form an alliance. The three of us have all been in contact with The Darklight. We have all utilized its power. Join us, and you shall have your revenge."
"But why me?" Kate asked timidly. "I mean, there were others. Why me?"
"The others are not suited for the task." Mage
declared. "Death has become too mentally unstable. His obsession
with death has led him on a path of destruction which will only
destroy him in the end. Floyd has become a hollow shell. It was
part of Mark's revenge upon him. All that big lug is good for
now is to be a brute. That will come in handy, but we need
someone with a good head on her shoulders. We need someone with
a cause to drive her. We need you, Kate. So what do you say
girl? Will you join us?"
"Go where?" Sean inquired. He was still not fully awake yet. Strangely, he did not remember when he went to sleep. He also thought it was strange that The Music Man was wiping shards of broken glass from his shoulder Upon closer examination they appeared to be broken bits of a mirror. "What happened to you?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing. I just had to retrieve something."
"Just an artifact that had been lost. I had to make a trip while you were asleep. There was something I had to find that we'll be needing in our endeavor. But never mind that, let's get going."
"You wanted to go out and save the day, now we are going to do just that." Replied The Music Man. Sean noticed that the old man was carrying a backpack that he had not had before.
"But where are we going?"
"To The Spire lad. That is where the good guys shall meet the bad guys. Hopefully the good guys will win."
"But..." It was too late. The Music Man had already passed through the door and was making his way down the street. Sean hurried to catch up, but found that the old man had stopped in his tracks after reaching the end of the block. Sean quickly realized why the old man had stopped. Just around the corner there were bodies lying in the road. The streets were littered with corpses that looked like they had been chewed up by a pack of wild animals. "What could have done this?"
"I know not the answer, boy. But from the sound of it, the perpetrators are not far. Let us away. We have more important matters to attend to. If we accomplish our mission then all of this carnage will be meaningless." So they continued onward. But there was something on Sean's mind. It was a burning question which he had wanted to ask before they had re-entered Mark's mind. The Music Man could sense something was troubling the boy so he asked, "What is it? What are you pondering?"
"Well, it's just that... what happens to us if we fail?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you said that if we win that all of this carnage will be meaningless. What if we lose?"
"Then we shall either be dead, or remain trapped in this world indefinitely." Sean was taken aback by the old man's candor. It was both an honest answer, and a frightening one.
"But Jessica and I got out before."
"That was with the assistance of those who knew how to do it. Mage and Black will not help us. At this point they probably want us dead more than anything. Now that Mark has lost control over his powers, it will only be through his will that we leave. It will only come about if he wants to leave, and nothing short of that."
Sean paused for a moment, and then spoke in frustration. "You could have told me before we left."
"You never asked. Besides, if I'd told you, I wouldn't have gotten to see the look on your face that you have right now, would I?" Sean was about to angrily reply when a very strange howling sound erupted from behind them. The two travelers turned to see a very ominous sight. The dead that had littered the street, were rising off the pavement. They were pulling themselves to their feet. Then they looked towards the two travelers with hungry expressions, and began to slowly move towards their prey. Sean and The Music Man looked at each other for a moment, and then they both simultaneously began to strike at the ghouls with magic. They fought standing back to back. As they fought, they slowly edged their way towards a nearby building with an open door.
"I didn’t know that you could use magic!”
“All that enter from the real world can use magic, but now is not the best time to discuss this matter.
“I thought these guys were supposed to keep the peace, not slaughter everyone! This is insane!" Sean declared.
"Agreed, but that does not make them any less of a threat. Let us get to higher ground!" The Music Man motioned up towards the sky, and Sean took the hint. The boy lifted them both off of the ground with his powers and took them up to the roof of the building. There they looked down upon the mass of inhumanity while trying to figure out what to do. Sean's powers were not as strong as they had been during his first visit to Mark's realm. He could not carry them the whole way to The Spire. and the zombies had the place surrounded for blocks.
"Do not worry old man," A voice called out from above. "You showed me the way, so I shall show you mercy, for now." With those words, the ghouls suddenly stopped taking interest in their prey. The zombies dispersed themselves through the streets in search of others to consume. Meanwhile Sean and The Music Man looked up to see Death floating down from the sky, and towards the roof of the building.
"Why have you done this? Sean inquired.
"Why did I spare the two of you, or why am I killing all of these people?"
"My, we want everything, don't we? I am sparing your lives because your associate was instrumental in my efforts to find myself. This is my way of saying thank-you. Besides, it would cost me too many men to kill the likes of you two. I'll wait to do that a bit later."
"Why are you killing all of these people?"
"Because I like to. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to. Death has a busy schedule, and I intend to keep it." And with that, the hooded figure floated off into the sky.
"C'mon. Let's get going. We still have a long walk ahead of us."
"Shouldn't we follow him?" Sean asked. "Shouldn't we try to stop him?"
"There is no time. His plans won't mean a
thing if we win our own battle."
The first thing Mark did was to fall onto the bed. His mind was still trying to rehash what had happened to him since Jessica's trip home. He had believed it to be a dream come true, when in reality, it had been a nightmare. His guilt over what he had done to people, especially to Jessica, was overwhelming. Mark felt a need to redeem himself somehow. That is why he did not even try to stop Jessica from telling her story about the city of Morgan and all those in it. That is, until she got to the part about him being in a coma.
"What you are telling me is insane! Do you realize how far fetched that story sounds? I'm in a coma, and this whole world is just a figment of my imagination. Okay. Yeah. Sure."
"Think about it Mark. Where else could I have been?"
"You were in your world. Maybe you only thought it was me. Maybe this guy just looks like me."
"He also has the same name, and he had my ring, which you are wearing."
"That's right, I'm wearing it here. So how could I be wearing it in your world too? How could it have gotten onto my hand in your world if you had only seen me in this one?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's whatever weird magic that allowed me to come here in the first place."
"I'm sorry Jessica. I really am. I'd like to believe you, but I just don't see how I can."
Jessica thought for a moment, and then responded with something that she wished that she did not have to use. "Remember when we were in The Mirror Maze? Remember what happened?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Why were you the way you were? What did the mirrors show you that made you react the way you did?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Mark was becoming agitated.
"How can you not remember? I found you..."
"I found you curled up in a ball..."
"You were on the ground, crying."
"Stop!!! Okay!! Just, stop!" Mark's face had turned red and his eyes were beginning to water up as his memory of the incident began to return. "I know what I know! This is reality, okay? I'm not stuck in some hospital somewhere, dreaming this stuff up! I'm not. So let's just drop it."
Jessica was out of ideas. She didn't know how to get through to him. There just seemed no way to get beyond his inability to accept the truth. He was too stubborn to look at the evidence. Jessica sighed heavily, and as she did, her eyes drifted towards the mirror on the dresser. That gave her an idea. "Mark?"
"Yes Jessica." There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"Do you really want me to drop the matter?"
"Yes I do."
"Then just do one thing for me. Okay? Just go over there and put your hand on that mirror."
"Just do it. Then I'll drop it. Okay?"
"Okay, okay.” As Mark spoke, so too did he rise up and walk towards the dresser. “I'll just walk over here and put my hand on the mirr..." Mark fell to the ground. He had touched the mirror as Jessica had asked. And then, darkness.
When Mark woke up he was shaking. Jessica tried to console him but her attempts were received with a look of pain, and confusion.
"I'm sorry Mark. It's just..."
"Just what? Huh? My whole life is a lie."
"It doesn't have to be."
"What do you know?"
"You still have me. And you still have your mother who's..."
"Mom!" The word seemed to choke up in Mark's throat as he said it.
"She's worried sick about you. She visits you, every day."
"Is she okay?"
"She'd be a lot better if her son would come
home." Mark looked at Jessica with eyes that confirmed that he
had been convinced. They would return to the real world. But
first they had to find the others.
"So we can go home now!" Jessica said excitedly.
"Maybe you can," Sean declared. "but I can't leave until I've found Josh. He and his friends, The Horsemen, are trapped here too. We can't leave without them."
"He's right." The Music Man said. "To leave them behind would be the same as a death sentence."
"Well, last time I saw them they were at The Spire." Mark chimed in. He did not mention the fact that Josh was put in a cell by his orders. It was a topic that he wished to avoid.
"Let's go get them." Sean said. With that, the four of them headed towards the massive skyscraper using Mark's powers to fly them there. Unbeknownst to them, they were being watched. There were three individuals who had stumbled upon them during the conversation, and their intentions were not good. The strangers had been very careful not to make their presence known to the group of foreigners, and that is the way they wanted it to be. At least, until the right moment. That moment came when they were all just outside The Spire. The quartet had floated to the ground, and were about to walk in the front door when, "Booooom!!!"
That was the sound that they heard. That, and the sound of their own screams. Sean had immediately risen to his feet and begun wildly blasting away in the direction where the first shot had come from. As he turned around he at once recognized the assailants as being Mage, Black, and Kate. He also recognized the fact that they were using Darklight against him. This fact puzzled him as he was knocked unconscious by another blast. Mark recognized The Darklight as well, but he did not waste time asking questions he did not need to know the answers to. The three attackers scattered as massive amounts of energies were spewed at them.
"Black! Kate! Flank them." Mage shouted. The two did as they were told. Mark tried to compensate for the fact that he was surrounded, but could not. With Kate on the left, Black on the right, and Mage in front of him, he was lost. The former king fell to the ground in a heap as the attacking blasts overwhelmed him. Jessica saw what was happening, but could not prevent it in time. Still, she was able to knock out two of Kate's teeth with a massive right hook that sent the girl to the ground in a heap of blood, sweat, and tears. But alas, Jessica too was fallen. Black had sent a beam of Darklight at her, sending her sprawling to the ground.
"Three down, one to go." Mage gloated, as he watched The Music Man slowly get to his feet. "So what do you say, old man? You going to come quietly?"
"You want a reason?" The Music Man said, but he did not wait for an answer. Without warning he released a burst of energy from his right hand that made his would be assassins attacks look like mere misquote bites. The blast hit Mage square in the chest. The impact sent Mage through the walls of four buildings before his limp and broken body finally came to a rest. Kate and Black hesitated for a moment, and then attacked their foe with every ounce of power that they could muster. For a full two minutes, Kate and Mr. Black poured on everything that they had. They did not stop until the smoke cloud that had been kicked up by the fighting had become too thick to see through. A brisk wind came along and took the cloud away. When the smoke was gone, it appeared as though The Music Man had shrugged off the barrage like it were nothing. He casually lifted both of his arms in the air, and then sent the two of them packing with a blast from each hand.
After he was sure that he had won, the old man dusted himself off. Then he looked down at his fallen comrades in arms. A smile etched its way across his face. Then, a slight burst of laughter erupted. As the old man chuckled he used his magic to lift the three of them up, and then carried them towards the roof of The Spire. There he laid them on the ground and waited for them to wake up. As he waited, he began to think on matters.
"If only they knew my real intentions. Would they laugh, cry, or just call me insane? I wonder, have I gone insane after all these years? Probably. But if I say I'm insane, then I can't possibly be insane, hence I'm sane. It's not as if I walk around talking to an eight foot tall rabbit that goes by the name of Harvey. I see the world as it is. I will do what must be done. Justice must be done. In the end, all my debts will be paid, and then I can go on with my life. A pity though. Those that I seek to help will suffer a bit for me. Those that I seek to use will suffer more though. Oh well. Shit happens."
One by one the three fallen travelers woke up. Each one was disorientated, and the burning question was what had happened.
"What can I say? I got lucky. They underestimated me, and I surprised them. Actually I barely managed to fend them off. The three of you must have really weakened them with your attacks. I just got lucky."
"We all did." Mark said. "They weren't holding back at all. They were out for blood, and they'll be back."
"Then there is something that I should present to our young Jessica here, should our enemies return."
"What is it?" Jessica asked. Her question was answered when The Music Man put his hand into his backpack, and produced a very familiar item. "The orb! Where did you find this?"
"It was hidden beneath a pile of rubble along the side of the road. I thought it might come in handy, seeing as how useful it had once been."
"Thank you. I don't know if it'll come in handy, but it sure couldn't hurt."
"Think nothing of it. If it helps us get home, that's all that is important."
"So let's find The Horsemen and get the heck out of here." Josh declared.
"Agreed." Said Jessica. Then Mark led them inside the building. They walked to where Josh had been imprisoned, only to find signs of a struggle.
"Great." Mark said. "Now what do we do?" But his question went temporarily unanswered. There was a commotion outside the building that could be heard from even that high up. The four of them made their way over to a window in order to see what the commotion was all about. It was the unquiet dead. They had surrounded The Spire, and seemed poised to invade The Spire at any moment.
"He is the ghost in the flesh." Black announced. He too was shaking off the affects of the battle.
"What do you mean by, ghost?" Mage asked. He was obviously in a very weakened state, as he could barely walk. "Who is he, and what is his nature?"
"I know only that he appeared as a ghost to me, and a few others. He predicted many of the events which have taken place since the arrival of the girl, Jessica. It wasn't until he showed his magic that I recognized him as the entity he had been. Before he was merely a spirit, and could not be physically affected, or physically affect this world. However, now he is flesh and blood here. He has great power."
"But why has he joined with our enemies? What is it that he wants?" Mage asked in a frustrated tone.
"I do not know." Black replied. "But his presence does not change our goal. We will conquer our enemies and bring order back to this world. He is merely another obstacle to overcome. Next time we shall not underestimate him as we did."
"I thought you said that Mark's control over the Darklight was gone, and that he was nowhere near as strong as he used to be."
"I did. Why?"
"Well, if he's not able to control The Darklight, then why are the dead still walking?" Kate's question forced both Mage and Black to turn to see what she was talking about. What they saw was a massive crowd of zombies that seemed to have no end. As each second passed by the ghouls got closer and closer to the trio. The unquiet dead were everywhere. There seemed to be no way to get by the mob. Kate began blasting away at them. For each one that fell, it seemed as though ten more rushed forward to take the fallen one's place.
"Save your energy girl." Black said.
"What will we do?" Kate cried out.
"Let us enter The Spire." Mage declared. "We shall take refuge behind locked doors."
"Those doors won't hold them for long." Black said.
"All we need is some time to regain our strength. Then we can fly away if need be." With that, the three of them entered the front door of The Spire, and sealed it behind them. Then they climbed the many stairs, making sure to seal all of the doors that were left behind them in their tracks. They ran as far and as fast as they could go. They did not stop until they heard voices ahead of them. It was the voices of their original quarries.
"What will we do?" Kate asked. She was still very much afraid.
"We will wait and watch, my dear girl." Black declared. "We will wait for our opportunity, and then we will crush them!"
"There are so many of them now. How could this have happened? How can Death be winning? We've fought so hard and saved so few. Not only that, but the Darklight is slowly eating the city up at the core. I can feel it in the air, and I saw it when it seemingly vaporized a family of five over on Wilshire Ave. I don't know if you guys have noticed, but it's also been eating up the buildings. This city is getting smaller by the minute. Guys?" Josh sighed. His friends had not spoken much since their awakening at The Spire. They had remembered the past, but Josh could sense that they did not know how they should act. His three friends were used to being silent but deadly. He hadn't noticed it that much because of the constant fighting ever since his escape, but he could not help but notice it then.
"Josh?" It was Ryan who spoke. For a brief moment Josh hoped that he might here something that did not relate to death and destruction. His hopes were not fulfilled. "There seems to be a large number of them concentrating in that direction. They seem to be heading towards The Spire." Josh sighed, and for a moment he almost gave up hope that he might have his old life back. Then he gave himself a talking to and looked to see where Ryan had been pointing. There they were. A sea of dead, walking the streets.
"Let's go." Josh said, and the Horsemen began to fly towards the battlefield. They floated through the air and over top of the mass of inhumanity, as it slowly pushed deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. The quartet finally stopped when they were one block away from The Spire. Then they did as they had done when Death had challenged them. They began to charge their combined energies. Josh had come up with a plan on their journey. The plan was to eradicate as many of the living dead as possible in one fell swoop. Josh did not know why the corpses had centered themselves around the skyscraper in the center of town, but he was not going to pass up the opportunity that had presented itself. Just as they were about to unleash their power though, the front doors of The Spire broke under the pressure of millions of zombies pushing on it all at once. The magic seals of Mage and Black could not hold it any longer, so the undead began to pour into the massive building. They ran forward with the frenzy of animals starved by hunger. Josh assumed that there must have been a large group of people holding out inside the building, and he had no intentions of letting anyone else fall prey to the army below him. The Four Horsemen quickly flew to the roof, each one taking up a position at each corner. Then, all at once they released a burst of energy, which at first, slid down the outer perimeter of the building. Then, once it had reached the bottom, that energy began to push outward, towards the zombies. Everything in the energy's path was mowed down by its immense power and magnitude. As the wave of energy moved beyond a point, one could see the chopped up remains of bodies that had been left in the wake of the blast. Nothing dead, nor alive, escaped its path for a distance of two miles. Josh only hoped that nobody had hidden out inside the area of destruction. He just could not take the thought of letting the carnage go on any further.
When the wave had dissipated there was nothing but guts, and limbs littering the streets. What few zombies survived the onslaught were either scattered throughout the city, or running amok inside The Spire. That is when Josh heard the voice of Death crying out.
"You fools!!! What have you done?!?!? You've ruined everything!! Why?!? It would have been so perfect. No more war, or famine or plague. It would have been a perfect world. Isn't that what everyone wants?"
"Not the way you planned to do it, you sick son of a bitch!" Josh replied. Death looked at him with rage in his eyes, and then the skeletal figure flew into The Spire through a broken window. "Keep running Death!" Josh shouted after him. "We'll find you eventually! You won’t go unpunished for your crimes!" Then the four of them gave chase, and hoped that those inside were safe from the remaining rampaging ghouls.
But who would do something about it? Who had both the power and the mind to do something as plainly necessary as stopping the end of the world? It would seem to be a matter that would bring together forces from all sides of the conflict. But for some reason, it did not. The Horsemen were too busy chasing after Death to realize how bad things had gotten. Death knew, but could care less. Kate, Black, and Mage were not even paying attention to the outside world. Their attentions were focused on taking control of the world. A pity that they did not realize that the world that they were fighting to claim was dying before their eyes. Those searching for a way back home did not realize how bad things had gotten either. But then, they were planning on leaving anyway.
It seemed as though there was nobody willing to at least postpone the death of the world. You know, that really ticked me off. To think that people care about what's happening around them so little, that I have to step in and do something about their safety. It makes me want to weep. Oh well. I expunged The Darklight from the ground and forced it into the air. Better to have it kill a few innocents than to eat the whole world. I thought it was a great idea. I received no appreciation for it though. Who appreciates the work of a teller of tales after all? Of course, nobody even noticed that I had done it, so I guess I can't complain. Working behind the scenes has a way of impeding ones own ego trips. Nobody ever knows what you did.
As he talked, so too did his army respond to his mental commands. The dead began to search for any sign of life that was unfortunate enough to meet them. There were a few employees who had taken shelter inside the building. They were torn to pieces before they even had a chance to scream. The unquiet dead did not meet any resistance at all until they encountered Black, Kate, and Mage. That is when a full scale battle between the two groups erupted, and that is what alerted the four travelers resting on the floor above to their enemies’ presence.
"Mark, what was that?" Jessica asked. After seeing the army of ghouls outside, and then feeling the vibrations, and seeing the blinding flash of an unusual blast, she was a bit worried about who might be around.
"I don't know Jesse."
"Well, let's go find out." Sean suggested. The others were as curious as he and followed the boy's lead. The four of them headed downstairs, only to run into the tail end of the assault which had been plaguing the sadistic trio of power seekers. Finally, after the dead were laid to rest, the two groups came face to face.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" Sean said sarcastically. "It looks like you three are pretty tired. Care to go another round?" Before an answer could be given to the question both sides began to open fire on one another; Sean went after Black, Mark fought Mage, and Jessica lunged at Kate in an attempt to forego competing with magic. Strangely, The Music Man slipped away. Nobody seemed to notice though. They were all too busy trying to kill each other, or at least to hurt each other, badly. It was a pretty good battle too. That is, until a very large explosion broke it up. The explosion also cracked the entire skyscraper in half. It was The Darklight. Ever since it had been expelled from the ground it had been sweeping across the world destroying things at random. Finally, it had returned to the place which had entrapped it for so long a time. The effect of this was that both sides of the conflict were too scared to do anything but take cover as the Darklight passed all around them. For a moment it seemed as though the building might collapse. It rocked back and forth under the intense pressure being sent through its center.
"What's happening?" Sean cried out.
"The Darklight is holding The Spire together!" Black called back. "It has returned to the one place it has become familiar to over the years! It has come home!"
While the battle between our heroes and their enemies raged on, The Horsemen continued to chase Death through the halls of The Spire. It had been a long chase, and both parties had grown weary because of it. Josh led the Horsemen down the long hallway that had seen his separation from them not too long ago. The memory stuck out in his mind as he heard a door quietly shut around the corner. He signaled the others to stop, and then they proceeded slowly. All of them had set their minds to one goal, that being the destruction of the entity known as Death. They had no intention of repeating the errors of the past as related to the attempts to destroy him. Josh had come up with an idea that seemed like the only solution to their enemy's mortality. Every time he had been blasted his body crumbled under the assault. The problem was that Death had simply reformed himself. The trick seemed to be not to break him up, but to kill him as a whole. That is to say, to not leave any shred of him left, lest he reform himself. For that to happen The Horsemen would have to surround him, and hope their distance apart did not allow for their demise, because ever since their awakening to Josh's truth they had drew their strength from their unity. To separate meant the possibility of defeat. Defeat meant death.
So the four of them surrounded the door closest to the point of origin of sound that Josh had heard. There was a brief moment of pause for mental preparation, but then that pause was interrupted by the sudden opening of the door. Death had sensed their presence, and he was in no mood to die.
"Prepare for your demise you insufferable gnats!!!" Death shouted as he burst out of the room and into the hallway. Josh watched as his plan slowly turned into a very unexpected circle of events. First Death had struck Ryan and Charlie, one with each fist. The two of them had been standing on opposite sides of the entrance, and thus they were sent very far down their respective sides of the hallway by the intense blows. Then Tom struck the demonic looking figure with a bone crunching blow to the side of the skull. Death still had his arms spread from his attack on the other two, and he did not move at all to block Tom's attack. Instead he stood there as half of his skull was driven inward, and then the skeletal figure cupped both of his hands and brought them to bear on the ears of Tom. Tom quickly fell to the ground in pain, rubbing his ears. The rubbing of his ears was an adverse reaction to the realization that he had just gone deaf.
"Oh, what a pity Josh." Death said as he laughed. "And you had such faith in yourselves. How did you think that the four of you could ever defeat one such as myself? Do you honestly think that death is an option for me?"
Josh decided to answer that question by quickly flying over the head of Death and landing behind him. The other three Horsemen took the hint and began to encircle their enemy with bursts of intense energy blasts. Death realized their intents, and cursed himself for making their plan possible with his own actions. His scream could be heard for miles away. It was a scream filled with shock and fear. The shock was caused by the fact that he realized that he could die. The fear was brought on by the anticipation of where he was going.
The Horsemen had won. Death would no longer harm anyone, and they were free to do as they wished. But as the four of them came together in celebration for the victory, so came their defeat. A spike of Darklight energy traveling down the long hallway took them by surprise. The four friends fell to the ground and passed out from the shock of the blast. If they had remained awake they might have seen The Music Man as he stepped over their unconscious bodies. The old man continued down the long hallway until he came to the room which housed the Pullson Siphon. He entered the room slowly, taking a moment to stare at the machine. Then he raised his right hand up to the control console, and in that instant, the machine disintegrated in front of him. A smile appeared on his face as the building began to shake. And as he walked out of the room, The Darklight erupted through the center of the building, and he could not help but laugh.
"We were fools to think that we could keep The Darklight in check." Black declared.
"Oh, shut up!" Mage replied. "You had it under your thumb for centuries."
"It was never 'under my thumb’. I always had a respect for its power. That is why I built the Pullson Siphon. It was designed to act as a dam for the power. While some of it was transferred to me, some was released into the world. But it was never enough to cause any real harm."
"So what are you saying?" Jessica asked. "I mean this has happened before."
"That is correct." Black replied. Then his memory reminded him of the incident which she had spoken of. "Girl! Jessica! Do you still have that orb? The one you used to vanquish it the last time?"
"Yes. Yes I do." She replied.
"Well don't you think now would be a good time to use it?!?!" Black demanded.
"I don't know if I can. It doesn't always work when it's supposed to." She said.
"Well try, damn it! Try! It is our only hope!" Black called out. Jessica reached into her pocket and produced the orb which Black had reminded her of. She held it tightly and tried desperately to make it work. She tried to picture the Darklight disappearing, but it would not. She tried to imagine it being sucked up into the orb itself, but still, nothing happened. Mark saw the frustrated, and very afraid look on her face. He crawled towards her, carefully avoiding the bursts of Darklight which were ripping apart everything they came in contact with. Finally he made it to her. Then he too took hold of the orb, and together they attempted to put an end to the threat of The Darklight. At first, their efforts did nothing. Then, the energy blasts began to focus on the orb itself. The orb began to fill up with The Darklight, and soon the entire city was shaking under the intense movement of power that was taking place. Jessica and Mark began to cry out in pain as the energy transfer shook them to their very core. It seemed as though the cure might kill them all. Then, all was quiet. The Darklight had been vanquished.
"It worked!" Jessica exclaimed exuberantly. "Black, you were right!"
"I usually am girl. We are all in the debt of the two of you. That is why I'm sorry that you have to die."
Sean and Black were struggling in mid-air. Sean's power still outmatched that of Black, but Black's knowledge of magic evened the odds. At least, at first it did. But as the battle kept going it became obvious that Black's power was limited. He had been so used to having all of The Darklight energy to call upon that the lack of it caused him great misfortune. In the ancient one's defense, he fought hard and did what he could. But in the end, he was nothing without the Darklight. The loss of the Darklight also meant that Black could no longer fly. Sean forced his enemy to expend all the power that he had left, and then watched as the darkly clad protector of order plummeted to the ground.
Mage did not have to rely on the Darklight as Black had. In fact, it was only the beginning of the energies that he could call upon. He and Mark battled ferociously, each putting their energies into their hands, and making their hand into fists. No attempts were made to block the attacks that were made. They simply swung away with all the frustration and rage that they had. In the end, Mark was far more pissed off than Mage could ever have been. With a combination lefts and rights that struck both the body and head of Mage, the chaotic one fell to the floor in a heap of blood and sweat. And when Mage stuck his hand out signaling he had given up, Mark would have none of it. Mage would not have shown mercy, and so neither did Mark. With one fast and powerful blast from Mark's hand to Mage's head, Mage's head burst apart, and the wizard was finally dead.
Jessica had an entirely different kind of fight. There was only a bit of magic used, and that was done by Kate. The would-be sorceress had made a mistake in trying to blast Jessica into smithereens. Jessica had simply held out the orb, and the orb had absorbed the remaining Darklight energies which Kate had saved up. Then it came down to brute force. As Jessica had gotten to her feet, Kate slapped her as hard as she could, causing Jessica's bottom lip to split open. Jessica ignored the pain though. It was something she had become good at over the years. She ignored the pain, and then she quickly pummeled Kate into oblivion. The girl laid on the ground unconsciously. She was no longer the pretty thing she had once been. Kate's nose was broken, and both her eyes were bruised. She was bleeding internally as well. On that occasion it had been Jessica who had felt more scorned by the events which led them all there.
The battle was over. The good guys had won.
"We're going home Mark!" Jessica exclaimed.
"I know." Mark replied. "I don't know if I'm quite prepared, but it'll be a welcome change."
"Okay boys and girl," The Music Man said. "It's time. I'm not sure exactly how we're supposed to do this, but let's give it a go, shall we? Now I want you all to picture something that you are connected to in the real world. Something, or someone that you can remember vividly. Now let's all close our eyes, and just think for a moment. Concentrate on whatever it is that you long for the most."
Mark and Jessica held hands as they did as they were instructed. Both of them thought of their families. That was the thing that they all thought of. For Sean, his mother was the only person he really knew in the real world. For The Horsemen, their families were the only thing that they could really remember, for their memories were still hazy. First, they all heard a slight humming. Then, each one opened their eyes to see that the mirror had become a circle of light. It was a brilliant light, which did not seem to shine outward, but inward, into itself.
They all began to cheer as they became very excited, and anxious to pass through the portal.
"You go first Mark." Jessica said. "I want to make sure you get out of here before I leave."
"We'll go together." Mark replied, as he smiled at her. They took hands, and then climbed up onto the dresser. They looked at each other one more time, and then entered the portal. Sean followed right behind them. Then it came The Horsemen's turn. Josh climbed up on the dresser first. He was so excited that he leapt right at the portal, only to find that he could not pass through it. He tried again, and again, only to be denied each time.
"What is this?!?" Josh cried. "What's wrong?!? Why can't I go through??!?" The other Horsemen began trying as well, but they could not go through either. After a moment, the portal closed. "Nnnooooooooo!!!!!" Josh screamed. "Why?!? Why?!??" He looked towards The Music Man, and again asked, "Why?" The Music Man did not reply though. He simply looked at Josh, and then laughed.
"So why can't you make me forget?!?! Why?!? Why do I have to know that I'm not real?"
"Because I want someone else to know the truth. You're just the unlucky soul that got the job. At first it was to give you a reason to weaken the powers that were in control. You believed yourself to be real, and you were searching for a way to break free from this world. Your terrorist acts kept them off balance. Then you were befriended by Sean, and I needed him to need a reason to come back here. That reason was you. Without the help of him and Jessica I never could have done this. I needed someone who could get me inside of this world in such a way that I would be a physical manifestation. Before I was just a ghost, going around and manipulating people. Now I have real control over this place. Jessica was a godsend. Without her I could never have convinced Mark to leave. That was the key. He had to want to leave. Nothing I could have said or done would have convinced him of the truth. But Jessica, she made it all possible the moment the two of them fell in love. Whatever power brought her here gave me the window of opportunity I needed to end the madness that had taken over my mind. Can you imagine trying to live in two worlds at once? Do you know how frustrating that can be? I lost everything because some snot-nosed kid was out joy riding on his bike! But all that's over now. All is right in the world again. I have ended all the conflicts, and made this world as it should be."
"I don't believe you! I am real! I know it!"
"Sure you are."
"I don't care what you say! I know who I am. I have memories. I have to be real." "Of course you are. Now run along live out your 'life.' Try to enjoy it. Do whatever fancies you the most. Anything is possible in the imagination. As for myself, I have to leave you now. I promised my wife that I'd take her out dancing at The Dregs tonight."
"I'm real! You hear me, Music Man! I'm real!"
"Whatever you say. Have a nice 'life.'"