TU COMUNIDAD DE CUENTOS EN INTERNET
Noticias Foro Mesa Azul

Inicio / Cuenteros Locales / deilost / Waking Up ( Working Title, Wip, Updated On 14/5/2019 )

[C:595125]

Esto es una pieza en trabajo, no terminada aun. Estoy usando la pagina simplemente para guardar lo que llevo. Si sabes ingles y quieres leer, go ahead, id love your feedback. Si no sabes ingles, publicaré la versión traducida cuando la acabe. Enjoy.

(Also. If you have gall and the guts to rate this low, have the decency as well to let me know what you didn't like.)




Snow in June, she thought. It was a strange thought to be had, considering the situation, but it was the first thing that came to her head. The next thing was, quite literally, where the fuck am I. The ground around her was covered in a fine layer of the aforementioned white snow, but it turned into black rock just one feet away, sleek and with a mirror-like polish. She raised her head then, and the question of where she was turned into screaming worry and into a surprised gasp from her mouth. It was all she could manage.

The room was quite spacious, all built from the same dark glossy rock that made up the ground. It had no roof and seemed to raise indefinitely into the sky. When she looked, high up, all she saw was a faint and hazy golden light, slowly crawling downwards from what must've been at least 500 feet. Then she heard the crunch.

The beast was something out of a nightmare. It was a gigantic panther-like thing, all muscle and thick black fur. It was munching on something. A corpse, without a head or most of its left shoulder, slowly dripping blood over the floor. She looked at it and she knew it knew she was looking. Without moving its powerful neck, the beast rotated its head in her direction, jaws the size of a door, fangs as long as swords slowly grinding meat. Its eyes opened slowly. They were yellow with a small crimson dot acting as iris, no pupils at all. Keeping those unblinking eyes fixated on her, the beast-nightmare pushed the thing it was eating halfway into its mouth. There was a quick slurping sound. Then, it rose from its hind legs, its empty mouth showing red-stained teeth. For a second she thought it was gonna pounce on her and tear her to pieces faster than she could feel it, but it didn't. It, as nonchalantly as a house-sized panther could, ambled to one end of the room, where an empty doorway, made for giants, opened into a hallway wreathed in shadow. It never lifted its gaze from her as it moved and, although its mouth was now closed, she somehow felt as if it were grinning all the while, as if it knew something she didn't. Then, without making a sound, it disappeared into the darkness, its fur flawlessly melding with the shadows beyond the door.

She thought she would scream. She didn't. In fact, no sound came out of her throat and none of her muscles moved until, groggily, one of the other 2 intact bodies laying in the room with her began to move.

=========================================================================================== ================================

WAKING UP

Elena felt the cold and rolled around on her bed to try and find the covers she'd probably moved while she slept. Then, as she palmed here and there blindly, her hand touched the floor. It was hard and cold. Had she fallen down from her bed during the night? If so, why had she not felt it? Then, her sleep-addled mind realized that her room's floor was carpet and, also, kept warm by the expensive floor heating her dad had had installed when they'd moved in over two years ago. Fear gripped her then and forced her eyes open.

Black rock, glass-like, made up the floor as well as the distant wall in front of her. Laying on her side, her head against it, she could tell that the floor was intricately carved, full of bas-relief grooves and lines. It was no self-warming soft carpet.

In a moment she was up, realizing suddenly just how cold she was, only dressed in her sleeping t-shirt and underwear shorts. She turned around, scanning the room. It was a big circle, with opposing doorways at least 4 meters wide and 7 tall. One of the doorways had a big gate, left halfway open, and the other was bare, leading into a long, straight hallway with several other normal-sized doorways across its length. She noticed there was a puddle of some sort of gleaming liquid near the gate with the door on it. In the center of the room was a small girl wearing an ugly coat way too big for her and sitting on a small snow puddle. The girl's hair, blond like a pale dawn, looked like it badly needed a bath. She was shaking visibly, in big shuddering waves.

Without a second thought, Elena rushed over to her. The girl had been looking at her and didn't react as she moved, instead following her with wide black eyes like pools of tar, until she was only a couple of paces away, at which point the small girl raised her arms over her face as if to defend or cover herself. The gesture seemed jittery and weak and it made Elena realize just how vulnerable the girl looked, in her oversized coat, her ragged white jeans slowly soaking on the melting snow beneath her. She seemed like someone out of a fairy tale, a modern little match girl, out of matches and entirely out of place. It brought back memories. Painful ones.

Elena knelt in front of the girl, without moving any closer. "Hey, are you alright?" She asked. The girl stared at her through the gap between her raised arms. After a while, a little nod.

"I'm Elena. What's your name?" The girl's voice was uncharacteristically low-pitched. "... Louise." She said, so low it was almost a whisper. Elena forced herself to smile, in spite of the absurd situation. Here she was, talking to a wary and probably homeless girl sitting on snow inside a Ridley Scott movie set, no idea how she'd ended up there, or where "there" was, for that matter. She felt worry well up inside her and forced herself to say something, anything, to try and escape the fear that threatened to grip her and send her into a panic attack.

"You...mm...You have really pretty eyes." Louise's eyes narrowed in suspicion as Elena felt color fill her cheeks. "A-anyway, isn't that snow cold? Would you like to stand up?" She did, slowly, putting the snow puddle between her and Elena. She began to wipe away at her jeans, removing a little snow here and there. The jeans were torn at the knees and her skin, which was creamy white in her face and hands, was red from the cold. They were also damp where the snow had started to melt from her body heat.

"You wouldn't happen to know where we are, or how we got here, right?" Asked Elena, although she suspected that the girl wouldn't know. Indeed, the girl moved her head slowly from side to side. "Yeah, I figured. Nobody ever does in these scenarios."

"Scenarios...?" Louise said, only making the word sound like a question at the last syllable.

"Yeah, you know, movies and stuff like that. People always wake up with amnesia, or can't remember anything from the night before whatever happened to them, well, happened. What's the last thing you remember?"

"Sleeping. It was a... warm June night." She stared at the snow, which was starting to melt. "Right, June 14th." Elena answered. "At least we know we got taken on the same night". Louise recoiled a little at the word "taken", as if she'd been in denial about their situation. Elena felt bad, realizing that, if her guess was right and Louise was indeed homeless, being "taken" was a very real danger for her. Before she could say anything to fix it though, Louise raised a hand, pointing to something behind and a little to Elena's left. Elena turned slowly and saw someone laying on the ground, wearing black jeans and a black leather jacket, making the tell-tale stirring movements one makes before entirely waking up. Elena turned back to Louise. "Stay here." She said. Then, she moved closer.

The new girl, for she was also a girl, had rosy skin and closely cropped hair on one side of head. The hair on the other side was dyed a deep purple and seemed to be shoulder length, although Elena couldn't be sure about the length since the girl was laying with her head resting on that side.

"Hello?" Said Elena, as clear as she could. The girl moved slightly but didn't answer, her eyes closed. Elena moved closer, until she was standing directly in front of her. She went down on one knee and placed one hand on her shoulder, shaking the girl gently and then a little bit rougher when she didn't react. "Hey, are yo..." She couldn't finish the question. The girl lashed out and turned her whole body sideways, simultaneously ripping her shoulder from Elena's hand and punching her square in the jaw with her other arm.

Elena was caught completely off-guard and unbalanced. She fell square on her right leg, disoriented from the blow. Before she could get her bearings, the other girl tackled her, positioning herself over Elena's body. She began to punch her, a flurry of angry strikes on Elena's face and chest, a knee constantly jamming into her groin, trying to hit something that wasn't there. She was screaming angry words that Elena couldn't make out. In the midst of the attack and spurred by her own feelings of worry and panic, Elena reacted as a cornered animal would. She began to kick wildly and to try to scratch at her opponent's face and arms. The other girl was bigger than Elena, and heavier, but she seemed to relent slightly at Elena's counterattack. Then, Elena brought one knee up between the girl's legs and pulled it close to her own chest, placing her foot inches away form the girl's belly. She kicked out with all her might and, surprisingly, felt the other girl being pushed away by her kick. As soon as she couldn't feel the girl on top of her, Elena scrambled backwards and found her way to her feet. She looked up and saw the girl standing a few feet away, holding her stomach in pain. Louise was also just a couple of steps away. Had she been trying to stop them?

No time to think about that. Automatically, Elena dropped into a fighting stance: left arm pointing in front of her, right arm held back at shoulder level and legs spaced out, feet firmly planted on the ground, knees unlocked and ready to bounce. A familiar weight formed in her right hand. However, Elena didn't realize she'd done any of this until the new girl spoke.

"What the fuck? You're not a dude! Why did... Wait, what the fuck is that?" She looked taken aback, staring at Elena. No, not at Elena but rather, at her right hand. Elena glanced quickly and, surprisingly, found that she was holding a slender-looking sword. The handle and the guard were short, made out of some sort of soft grey stone, but the weirdest feature was the blade. It was long for the handle, straight, double edged, and it glowed a soft pink. Elena dropped the sword, startled, and it clattered on the ground, the pink glow slowly starting to fade. There was a beat of silence, during which the girls took turns staring at each other and the sword on the ground. Then, the new girl spoke again.

"Alright, someone better explain to me what is going on!" She looked, and sounded, pissed off. "Who the fuck are you? And who the fuck are you? Where am I? Is this some sort of fucked up Saw shit, huh? Am I supposed to die here for whatever fucked up reason? Well?" She looked at Elena and then at Louise as she spouted her tirade. Her eyes were accusatory.

Elena raised her arms in front of her, appeasing, all the fight gone out of her in a heartbeat. "Calm down!"

The new girl swung on her, pointing with her finger. "Don't tell me to calm down!"

"W-We don't know anything either, please!"

She did not look convinced. "Bullshit. You brought me here, didn't you? You kidnapped me!"

"No, we didn't! Please, calm yourself." Elena began to back away, scared as the other girl began to make wild assumptions, her panic growing stronger by the second. The new girl pursued with angry stomps. "Stop lying! You were about to kill me with that weird thing!" The girl walked after her, unhinged, her arms gesturing wildly. "Either you tell me what the hell is going on or I'll beat it out of you!"

"Alright, that's enough of that." The new voice was deep, dark, and confident. Most importantly, it was male. Both Elena and the new girl turned towards its source immediately as they heard it.

The boy was standing on one end of the room, under the bare archway that led to the dark hallway. He was tall and muscular, with tanned brown skin and sun-bleached blonde hair. He was carrying a harpoon at least a foot taller than him. Its barbed tip, what would've been gray metal on a normal spear, was glowing a subdued green. With a reassured smile, he said the only magic words he knew would make purple-hair girl calm down. "I can explain."

"First of all, names. I'm Darion. What can I call y'all lovely ladies?" He smiled with a fox-like grin.

Out of the corner of her eye Elena saw purple-hair girl narrow her eyes. She rushed to answer, before purple-hair could start shouting again. "I'm Elena and this is Louse." She said, pointing. "We just woke up here and we have no idea what's going on."

"And you?" Darion said, his eyes on purple-hair girl. "Fuck you." She answered. "Where am I and what the fuck is going on?"

"Well, Fuck-You-Where-Am-I-And-What-The-Fuck-Is-Going-On, that is either a horrible name or some tricky questions". He started to walk towards the center of the room and the girls. Purple-hair girl immediately began to raise her arms to a boxing position but before she could get into a proper fighting stance Darion had already stopped walking. He looked at her and seemed suddenly very still, a living statue, his smile gone. "Peace. I intend you no harm. I'm just walking to that there gate." He pointed to the half-open door on the other side of the room while maintaining his eyes on her. When she didn't back down he kept talking. "Besides, as far as I know, I'm the one holding a spear double your size." He swung the harpoon over and across his broad shoulders, parallel to the ground and behind his neck, holding it there with both hands. Finally and somewhat reluctantly, she relaxed and lowered her hands. Strangely, purple-haired girl now sounded like an scolded child. "You said you would explain, so do it."

He kept walking, smiling again and nodding to Louise as he passed by her. "I will. Its just that I'll feel a whole lot more comfortable doing it with the door closed."

"Why? What's behind it?" Asked Elena, curious. Realization suddenly appeared on the purple haired girl's face and she half shouted, half asked. "Is that the way out?"

"There's no way out." He said, as he reached it. He grabbed one of the two huge door panels, several times his height, and began to slowly push it closed. Once it was sufficiently close to the other panel, he placed one hand on both panels and moved them at the same pace, closing the gate entirely. With the gate closed, it was plain to see that the carvings on both halves closed together to form an intricate pattern. Then Darion grunted and the pattern briefly lit up with the same green glow that his spear emitted. "There. Takes a weight off your mind." He sighed and turned around to face the girls.

They looked at him expectantly. "So, explanations. Where to begin?" He finally said, his eyes to the ground, as if he were trying really hard to think of something. "How about telling us where we are and how we got here?" Offered Elena.

"Well, that's the problem. I can answer only one of those questions and it's not gonna make a lot of sense until you see it for yourself. But I guess is as good a start as any, with how confusing this whole deal is." He raised his head and walked until he was a couple of steps away from the loose feminine group. Standing there, taller than any of them, he looked with warm hazel eyes at each one of them as he spoke.

"At present, you are located on the Sandflats, a minor ring of the Ringlands, inside the Pillar of Anguish. I have no idea how you got here from Earth." He half sighed, half smiled as he saw the look of confusion crystallize on the girls' faces.

"See? " He raised his arms in defeat. " It does not make sense. But let me continue. As you might've guessed by what I just said, you're no longer on Earth. You have been transported to another dimension, another world, whatever you wanna call it." He walked past the girls, towards what was now the only exit in the room, his back now turned to them.

"So that's the Where, and I already said I have no idea about the How. Oh, I know, let's keep going down the list. Who brought you here? No idea. When? Complicated. But!" He turned around, the giant archway behind him framing his muscular frame and making him look small by comparison. "I do know Why. You girls, alongside with me and many others, have been brought here to fight." He smiled again, as if that answered all their questions.

"What." Purple haired girl's deadpan response echoed Elena's thoughts.

"Exactly!" Darion jumped at the perfectly timed answer, his previous difficulty at explaining seemingly gone. "The What is the next one down the list. What exactly are you supposed to fight? Beasts!" He dropped his harpoon, which disintegrated into green dust before touching the floor, and raised his arms over his head in a menacing way, simulating claws, twisting his face in a white-teethed snarl. When his dramatic pause earned him nothing more than even more confused and somewhat irritated looks, he lowered his arms and crossed them before his chest, looking mildly hurt.

"What happened to your weapon?" Asked Elena. Darion grinned a sly smile, looking at her sideways from his pouting position. "You'll know soon enough, young lady." Elena found herself at a loss of words being called young by a guy that seemed at best a couple of years older than her.

"... Beasts?" Louise whispered, looking troubled. "Yeah, beasts, giant and terrible." At this point, Darion's voice lost most of its theatricality and became very down to business. "If you want an honest description of one, just imagine your regular animal scaled up to twenty times its normal size, covered in black paint and more bloodthirsty than your average starved rabid dog. They can be anything from rabbits to elephants and lizards and they are always, always, always trying to kill you." Elena saw as Louise eyes widened, listening to the absurdity of it all.

"Wait, you're saying that we're here to fight giant black rabbits?" Elena asked, trying to grasp the concept herself. Purple-hair was silent for once.

"That is exactly what I'm saying. And don't worry, I know it sounds ridiculous now but that won't last. Sooner or later you'll see or, God forbid, face one and then you'll remember me and you'll know why I can say to you with a straight face that giant black bunnies are terrifying. Never, ever, underestimate beasts." Darion relaxed as he continued to talk.

"In all honesty, you're lucky I got here when I did and managed to close that door before any of them showed up." He pointed to the giant door on the other side of the room. "That's where beasts come from."

"Um..." Fidgeted Louise, holding and nervously rubbing together the frayed sleeves of her coat, sleeves so long that they almost entirely covered her hands. "Don't worry, Liz." Said Darion, in a cooing voice not unlike the one used to talk to little kids. "Even if they'd gotten through I would've protected you." Elena was sure that Darion wanted to come across as reassuring, but he sounded condescending more than anything else.


"However, what would've happened if I hadn't been here to do that?" He continued his long-winded explanation. "Well, that brings us to the Gift. You see, any of you may be intelligent, strong, or quick, but let me assure that that alone would not be enough when fighting beasts. You'd be torn to pieces in an instant, regardless of strength or intelligence. Any normal human would. And so, whoever or whatever is bringing humans here," He gestured to the top of the room and the gentle golden glow that fell from it. "gift us with strength and weapons so we can fight."

He pointed to Elena. "You have already seen part of your Gift and are, quite ungratefully, letting it gather dust on the ground." He then pointed to the sword laying a couple of feet away from her. The blade's glow had begun to dim as soon as Elena had dropped it and was now completely extinct, making it apparent that the blade was made from the same dark glossy stone that the Pillar around them had been built out of.

"That weird sword is her... gift?" Asked Purple.

"Among a couple other things, yes" Answered Darion. Elena walked over and picked it up. It immediately lit up again with pink. Looking up close at it, she now could see that the inside of the blade was etched with similar but straighter designs as those on the gate, the lines and grooves glowing slightly brighter.

"And where is mine? What do I get?" Purple continued, as if eager to know what terrible weapon of mass destruction she would be gifted with.

"That depends on you, miss...?" Darion gestured, making the question evident. She sighed, as if she was surrendering the answer. "Nicolle."

"Thank you, Nicolle. You see, there are three types of Gifts. Elena and I share ours, the first." He pointed to Louise. "Liz here has the second type of Gift and if my guess is any good, you have been granted the third."

"Louise." Said Louise, quiet but stern.

"Sorry, Louise." Answered Darion. "The three types of Gift are as follows: Enhancement Gifts, Elemental Gifts, and Paradigm Shifting Gifts. Elena and I are Enhanced, Louise is an Elemental of snow. Now, you can tell apart different gifts by..."

Darion kept talking but Elena didn't hear it. She was looking into the shadow-filled corridor behind him. Out there, something a shade darker than darkness moved. She watched it, her heart in her throat, moving silently toward them. It was somehow drawing her in, like looking into an abyss and feeling a sudden desire to jump. She could've said something. She should've said something. She wasn't able to. Whatever it was that Elena saw, slowly, silently advancing towards the light, filled her mind with a sense of glowing iron-hot bloodlust and anger. Somehow, by just looking at it, Elena could tell it was ancient and hungry and, overwhelmingly so, that it hated her.

Nobody else seemed to see it. Darion was droning on, his back to the shadow, Nicolle and Louise trying to grasp all the information he was dumping on them.

It crept close to the archway and then, like a giant spider, it grasped the walls with four massive limbs, pulling itself up into the arch.

"Elena, I'm aware I tend to talk too much but I'm not that bad, am I? This is important, so please pay atte... Wait." Darion's eyes suddenly widened and he stuck his right hand out to the side, fingers open. He began to green glow all over, motes of green light rising from his body, slightly hovering over his skin as they moved toward the outstretched hand.

From the hallway, there was a quick whooshing sound as a black blur shot out from under the shadow hanging under the arch, almost too quick to see. It was a long cylinder, covered in black fur, stretching as it moved. Once fully stretched, it sprang up like a metal cable, tense and strong. It hung in the air for a fraction of a second and then retracted as quickly as it had appeared.

Darion, standing before the three girls, was now missing a chunk of his chest, underneath his left shoulder and arm.

His harpoon, barely glowing now, finished forming beneath his right hand and Darion grasped it. He coughed, spammed, and groaned, gritting his teeth in pain as a veritable cascade of blood began to flow from his exposed and in some cases shattered ribs. Then, quickly, as if the injury meant nothing to him, he turned around, drawing his right hand in a wide arc and threw the harpoon at the hallway as a green missile.

Elena didn't see if the harpoon hit the thing hanging in the doorway. Her eyes were fixated on Darion's bleeding side, the raw flesh, the scratched and broken white ribs, the ruby cascade steadily flowing. The blood. The blood looked crimson and shiny and full of fleeting life. The blood was alive. The blood was Darion. The blood was Darion dying. The blood was death and magic and life and...

Nicolle screamed. Louise brushed past a blood-struck Elena as Darion felt to his knees. She barely managed to catch his weight in her arms, struggling to not fall under him. He almost didn't register the little girl, as he struggled to breath. It seemed he was missing a part of his left lung.

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god..." Nicolle (?)went off(?) in the background as Elena came back to her senses. She needed to help. She rushed over to Louise and Darion's side.

"Lay him down, quick!" She exclaimed as she grabbed his shoulder and pulled. Darion winced. "What are you doing?!" Said Nicolle, still a few paces back and covering her face with her arms.

"Shut up and help!" Elena didn't have any training in first aid. She was operating solely based on popular knowledge and movies she used to watch. People in movies and series always said to lay down someone badly hurt and so she was doing it. After a couple of seconds of the three girls struggling with his muscled physique, Darion was finally on his back, his side still bleeding profusely. Elena was sitting on his right, the wounded side, Louise directly across her at Darion's left and Nicolle with his head on her thighs.

"What do we do now?" Asked Nicolle, still frantic. Elena raked her mind thinking. Stop the bleeding, stop the bleeding. That's it! She reached down and grabbed the rim of her t-shirt. It was an old, oversized shirt that used to belong to her mother. She grabbed with both hands and pulled in different directions. The shirt ripped surprisingly easy. However, it didn't rip horizontally as Elena wanted but vertically instead, ripping from her hip all to the way to her ribcage in an instant. She stared at it for a second, surprised. Nicolle caught on though.

"Use your sword!" She said and gestured at Elena's side. Elena had placed the sword at her right side when they had struggled to lay Darion down and now she grabbed it quickly. It was, she found, extremely sharp. In just a couple of cuts, Elena had a ruined shirt and two long strips of fabric. She held them over Darion's body and realized that they were way too small to cover the gruesome wound or staunch the bleeding. She moved the strips around to no avail, and ended up just pushing them over the wound, where they quickly became soaked with blood. Elena glanced, scared, at the other girls. Darion groaned. Nicolle stared, sitting by his head. It was Louise who moved.

Slowly, she placed both hands on Elena's wrists and tried to push them away from the blood soaked rags. Elena looked at her in surprise. Louise's eyes were a pool of black staring back at her, two deep fishing holes in the white lake that was her face. She pulled away. Then, Louise lowered her hands over the wound, almost touching it, and exhaled. There came a small breeze from her hands, Elena felt it, colder than the air around it. Louise´s hands twitched and slowly hovered over the exposed flesh, leaving behind them a track of fresh snow. The snow began to turn red in an instant and Louise repeated the movement, a little quicker this time. She did this, over and over, until the wound was entirely covered and the snow the girls could see was white and unmarred. "Pack it in, carefully." She said, almost as a whisper. One after the other, the three girls pushed the snow into the wound, wincing every time Darion would groan.

"G-Girls... That's, that's enough." He finally said. There followed a brief moment of stillness and silence, quick glances from one person to the other, and the sudden and somewhat shocking realization that all of them were sitting in a lukewarm puddle of blood.

"L-listen." Darion's voice had lost it's resonance. He was now so pale that his skin was only a couple of shades darker than the snow on his side. "Thanks for the snow, nice quick thinking, but I'm a goner. I only have a couple of minutes left." He coughed up a little spittle of blood and struggled to pull in air as he talked. His weak attempt at a smile only cemented the fact that he was dying. "Heh, I came in here thinking I was gonna save some dusties from their doom and now look at me. A-anyways, you girls must get out. There is a world out there, outside the Pillar. It ain't pretty but you'll be safer. Don't stay inside. Don't fight the beast. Don't... don't be an idiot like me. Work together. Elena... Never again drop your sword, it's who you are, its..."

"Don't talk." Elena said. "We'll get you out of here, we'll get help."

He chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous. Just get yourselves out. Escape." Suddenly, he groaned and arched his back in pain. A sizable chunk of snow fell off his wound but there followed barely any blood flow. He shivered wildly for a moment and then lay very, very still. The girls froze, three pairs of wide eyes staring at the body. Finally, his lips began to move in a restless whisper. His eyes were delirious, staring up at nothing in particular. His last words, Elena realized and leaned in, although she barely caught a couple of sentences:

"...gather at the... find the verdant truth... Dee... no... wait for me... wait... Dee..." He shivered once more, twice more, and reached out with a trembling hand. Elena took it and felt its awful cold. Then, he closed his eyes and relaxed and stopped breathing.

The girls didn't move for a while. Elena sat still, Darion's hand inside hers, looking at him. It was her first time seeing a dead body. Against her expectations, Darion looked at peace, as if he were just sleeping. She felt something warm on the back of her hand and realized that she was crying. Instinctively, she brought up her other hand to wipe the tears away and realized all too late that both her hands were covered in blood. Blood that she'd now smeared all over her face.

"Gather at the oasis..." Said Louise, very far away. Elena remembered the other phrase and said it, and, as she said it, slowly came back to herself. "Find the Verdant Truth."

"What? What are you guys talking about?" Nicolle looked up at them, an expression of confusion and fear on her face.

"It was... They were his last words." Elena answered.

Louise stood up, her frayed white jeans dark and dripping. "We should get out of here." She said. "What? Are you just gonna leave him here? Elena couldn't believe the little girl already walking away. Louise faced her again.

"What do you suggest we do? Do you want to carry him while we try to escape from the beast?" Her eyes were cold, her expression neutral. "I.. I don't know. It just feels wrong to just leave him here." Elena was still holding Darion's hand in hers.

"I know. It doesn't change the fact that he's dead and we are not. He told us to get out and that's what we're doing." With that, the small blonde turned her back to her and began to walk away again as if the matter was settled. Elena lowered her head, a horrible weight slowly sinking into her chest.

"Wait!" Nicolle ran after Louise, as she walked closer and closer to the open gate. When Louise didn't stop, she hurried and grabbed her by the arm. Louise reacted by pulling her arm away and turning to glare up at the taller girl. "Wait. Just... I get what you're saying but we need a plan. I can barely see anything in that hallway, can you see anything? Do you just want to go out there and get killed by whatever did him in?"

"A beast, a beast did him in" Corrected Louise, perhaps with too much emotion.

"Whatever, do you want to get killed like that in the shadows? Cause I certainly don't." Nicolle's eyes, as Louise saw them, weren't angry or even determined. No, she was scared. Seeing them and realizing this, Louise turned towards the gaping arch and the shadows beyond with a resigned look. "Well, what do you suggest we do?"

Nicolle opened her mouth to answer but found that she had no plan at all. What were they supposed to do?

"So, you guys can't see past the doorway? Said Elena, from the center of the room. Nicolle and Louise both turned to look at her. With a sigh, Elena let go of Darion's hand and placed it by his side. Grabbing her sword, she stood up and turned to face the girls and the gigantic gate, fresh tear trails parting the blood stains on her face. "Well, I can. It isn't very bright but I can see inside that hallway." She walked toward the gate.

"Oh!" Realization dawned on Nicolle's face. "That's why your eyes are pink! That's your main enhancement."

"My what?" Asked Elena, lost. "He said it while you were spacing out." Answered Louise. "Remember the three types of Gifts? Yours is called an enhancement gift because it enhances your body to its full physical potential or something like that."

"Exactly." Continued Nicolle. "Basically, you're buff now. Aside from that and your cool sword, something else about you gets a sort of super enhancement. I didn't really get it when he explained it but I do know. Your eyes are super enhanced. That's why you can see in the dark and your eye color is the same as your sword when it lights up." Shaken as she was, it was obvious that Nicolle was very excited by the idea of Gifts and superpowers.

"My eyes are pink?" Asked Elena, still lost.

"Yep. That's also why you have that rocking set of abs." Louise pointed out.

"WHAT." Elena immediately looked down to her ruined shirt, pulling up its ripped sides. Sure enough, the muscles around her midriff and belly were sticking out, clearly and strongly defined. She began to poke them, an incredulous expression on her face still, as if they were balloons full of air on a fake superhero costume. However, they were hard as stones.

She heard a snicker and raised her head to see Nicolle covering her mouth, trying to contain her laughter. Glancing to Louise, even she had a small smile on her face. She couldn't help but chuckle herself a little. Somehow, and even though it wasn't gone, the weight on her chest wasn't as heavy anymore.

"Alright!" She said. Her tone was determined. Elena had decided when she'd left Darion's corpse behind. His death would not be in vain. They were getting out alive. "I can guide us out of here, but what about the beast? What happens if we run into it?"

"We run." Said Louise. "Darion said that we shouldn't fight it and I agree. We should try to be as quiet as possible out there."

"But can we outrun it?" Asked Elena.

"I think it's better if it doesn't find us at all, like you said." Intervened Nicolle. "If push comes to shove we'll have to rely on you, Elena."

"Why me?" Asked Elena yet again. This was starting to get repetitive.

"Oh man..." Said Louise, rolling her eyes up.

"You really missed a lot, huh?" Nicolle answered. "Darion said enhancement gifts are natural beast killers. You see, he said that beasts can regenerate any wound super fast, except wounds made from the glowing weapons of people with enhancement gifts, like his green harpoon and your pink sword. So, it is the only thing we have that can actually harm whatever is lurking out there."

Elena gripped her sword's handle tighter. She felt a rising shame at missing such crucial info. She sighed. "Guys, I'm gonna come clean here. I saw the beast before it attacked Darion."

Nicolle gasped. Louise narrowed her eyes.

"I... I think I can do more with my eyes than just see in the dark. When I saw it, it sorta engulfed me. I felt it, its anger, its bloodlust, as if they were my own feelings. I should've warned Darion but it just was so much... That's why I spaced out, because I was trying to process whatever I was seeing. I'm sorry." She slumped her shoulders and looked down, feeling tears come to her eyes again.

Louise and Nicolle shared a quick glance and then the taller girl stepped forward. She placed her hand on Elena's shoulder, over her t-shirt.

"Hey." She said, turning her face to look at Elena's. "It's okay. It's alright. We get it." Elena met here eyes for a second and sniffed. "We're all still getting used to this and we're still confused. Hell, while we're doing this honesty thing I should also apologize. I was pretty rude to the both of you when I woke up. I was out with some friends before waking up here. You know, we were going wild, drinking, partying, living it up. I expected to wake up in my bff's apartment the next morning, with a killer headache. My first thought after waking up was that some creep had drugged me and was trying to... you know, have his way with me. And afterwards I was confused and lashed out. I panicked. I didn't expect... this." She gestured with her other arm all around them. "Nobody could expect this. Here, let me." Nicolle took the sleeve of her jacket and began to wipe away at the blood on Elena's face. All considered and even though she was a little too rough, it was a pretty good feeling.

"Sorry to interrupt, but you can do that once we're outside." Louise's deep voice came from their side. Nicolle clicked her tongue. "She's got blood all over her face." She protested. Elena raised her hand and stopped her. "She's right, we should be getting out as soon as possible. Thank you anyway." Nicolle huffed, resigning herself, and stepped back. Elena took two steps beyond the girls, toward the arch and the shadowed corridor beyond.

"I'll go first. Louise behind me and Nicolle behind her. Since you guys can't see very well, we'll have to hold hands. Speak up if you see or feel anything and specially if one of the hands you're holding onto disappears." Elena glanced back at them. Louise nodded and placed her hand into hers, cold as snow. Nicolle shook her head quickly and took Louise's hand as well. Slowly, so as to make as little sound as possible, the trio walked away from the light.

================================================================================================ ==========================

It was slow and confusing. The inside of the Pillar beyond the hall where they'd woken up was a labyrinth, full of long winding corridors with entrances to more corridors, rooms with dead ends, stairs both up and down, and devoid of any sort of landmarks or features to help tell which way they were going. Early on they had realized that the glow of Elena's sword would give them away, so Nicolle was the one carrying it right now. The sword didn't light up in her grasp and she complained that it was surprisingly heavy but, even so, it was obvious that she liked the feeling of carrying a sword in her hands.

They walked together clumsily, each girl behind other, surrounded by darkness and silence. The Pillar's floor was very level, but some walls had cracks along them. Small pebbles from these cracks lined the floor and it seemed to them that every couple of steps someone would kick the little pieces of debris around or step on them, making a loud grating sound. When this happened, Elena would stop them and they would stay still for a while, listening for the beast's approach. It was nerve-racking and stressful and Elena would feel the tension rise in Louise's cold grip as they furthered deeper and deeper into the maze-like interior.

However, her companions couldn't see what Elena could. While still focused on finding a way out, she marveled at the tremendous mega-architecture that surrounded them. Everything was up-scaled and enlarged. The ceiling of most hallways was 4 or 5 meters higher than her heads and the walls further apart than that. At times, when they crossed into a new hallway, it would disappear high up into the distance, letting Elena see floor after floor above them, with decorated walkways of several different architectural styles hanging over the empty air, bridging different floors together or leading into empty air. When they passed in front of doorways in the hallways she would see rooms of all shapes and sizes, some small as a bedroom, other large as a ballroom. Some had small crystalline growths on their walls and others had rounded, bowl-like floors and walls covered in a slow but constant water flow.

The one constant thing was the carvings. They were on every surface, no matter where Elena looked, and didn't depict images or pictograms, instead choosing straight lines that would shoot over wall after wall only to roll upon themselves into intricate circular designs that would eventually resolve into more straight lines over and over, ad infinitum. As she gazed on them with her enhanced eyes, Elena couldn't help but feel that here was a secret to the designs, some sort of encoded message that once discovered would show them a clear and easy way out. However, stare as she did, she came no closer to deciphering them and only cause herself a mild case of headache trying.

Finally, after what seemed like too many turns taken and too many corners crossed and too little progress made, Elena stopped the group at an intersection between two hallways. They huddled together in the dark, holding hands in a circle. Elena whispered:

"How are you guys holding up? Have you seen anything, any light, felt any breeze?"

Both girls shook their heads side to side. Nicolle answered. "Nothing. Although I think my eyes are adjusting to the darkness. I'm starting to make out the outline of things." Louise nodded again, as if to confirm Nicolle's words. She continued. "What can you see?"

"A bunch of stuff that leads nowhere. This place feels as if it was made for giants. Giants that were in love with carving and dead ends with empty rooms. Did Darion ever mention how big it is?"

"Nope." Answered Nicolle again. "Although he did call it a "Pillar", so we can assume that it is taller rather than longer. If it's worth anything, we've been walking for a while now and there's been no sign of the beast. If this place is as big as we assume it is, maybe it got lost or is somewhere at the other end of the building."

"Yeah, that could work out in our favor. I didn't expect to be this bad but we can't turn back now. I have an idea, let's keep going but this time I'm going to start following only one side of the walls, okay? I learned it at a mirror maze. If we stick to one side, we'll eventually make it out." She looked to their faces for agreement and was relieved to see them nod again, almost at the same time. However, the unspoken truth was left hanging in the air. If they stuck to one side they would find the exit after a lot of walking, but there was no guarantee that the beast wouldn't find them before that. It was a gamble on their side, but it was the best gamble they had. At least, Elena preferred it to walking randomly around the maze and getting even more lost inside the Pillar's bowels.

However, it seemed it would be a gamble they wouldn't have to take. Elena had turned again to face the crossroads and just grabbed Louise's again when she heard it. It came across the hallways, bouncing of the polished walls, reverberating directly into their ears. A shrill human scream, full of fear and desperation. The girls tensed up in where they stood, frozen, panicked hands clasped tightly. After a beat, the scream came again and then again once more. Whoever was screaming was still alive, was running and, worse of all, seemed to be very close to them.

Elena had barely gotten over her surprise when she felt Louise pull on her hand. She glance back and saw that Louise was actually pulling on Nicolle as well, urging them to run back, away from the noise. Nicolle began to follow Louise's lead but Elena grasped her hand even harder and stood her ground, stopping the two of them with ease. Louise tried to get her to move, pushing and pulling on Elena's hand. When it didn't work, Louise let go of Nicolle's hand and began to try and pry off Elena's fingers. With how effective it was, she might as well could be trying to pry away a statue's fingers.

"Are you crazy?" She asked as she struggled, in a loud stressed voice. Elena drew her face close to hers and answered, calm and low.

"Control yourself."

Louise seemed to pay no heed, as she kept struggling against the hand trapping hers, but at the very least the volume of what she said next was closer to normal. "Control? Do you wanna die?" Elena could see her plainly in the dark. Frightened. Terrified. Was the tough face she'd put on when Darion died just a mask?

Staring at Louise, Elena found herself thinking as to why she didn't want to run. After all, it was the most sensible thing to do, get away from the danger. Darion himself had said it. Don't fight it. In a flash, the words came to Elena with the strength of epiphany. She couldn't see this, but her eyes briefly light up with pink as she said them.

"Do you also wanna leave that other person behind?" Her voice was calm but firm and the words rang out almost metallic, with a sense of finality that Elena hadn't expected.

Louise stopped. Just a couple of steps behind, Nicolle's brow furrowed in realization. It was a given to suppose that whoever was screaming was being pursued by the beast. They could use them as bait and search for the exit with the relative peace of mind that the beast was busy elsewhere. Were they gonna do that? Let someone else die for their own gain? Back with Darion they hadn't had a choice. Now they did.

Elena let go and Louise stumbled a couple of steps backwards. However, she didn't try to run. She stood there and she brought her hands together before her chest, fidgeting with the loose threads in her oversized coat's sleeves. "... Are you saying that we should risk our lives for someone we don't even know?" She sounded unsure of herself.

"Could you live with yourself?" Elena answered. "Knowing that you could've done something, that you could've saved someone?"

"Yes! What does it matter? We don't know them, you don't know them. You don't know if they're horrible or good people, you don't know if they deserve to be saved. Hell, by this point you don't even know if they're still alive!" Louise voice grew in intensity as she exposed her argument. "You know nothing about this place and you squandered your chance to know. That thing is out there picking us out one by one and you want to do its job for it. Let it go!"

"I can't just let it go!" Elena said, a little agitated now, almost as loud as Louise's. Memories of another place and another time came to her and stabbed her in the heart, painful reminders of a time when she hadn't cared. When she'd "let it go". She turned to face Nicolle. "You don't have to follow me, it's fine. Don't wait for me outside. My sword, please."

"Wait, what do you plan to do?" Asked Nicolle, unable to make a choice.

"I don't know, I'll figure something out. But I can't leave anyone else behind, not again." Elena was starting to sound desperate. When Nicolle didn't react immediately she huffed, placing her hand on her sword's guard and pulling. Since Louise had let go, Nicolle had been holding onto the sword with both hands, one on the handle, the other over the darkened blade. As soon as Elena touched it and pulled, the blade lit up and sank into the palm of the other girl's hand. Nicolle let it go immediately, squealing at the sudden pain.

"Look at what you're doing!" Said Louise, seeing everything clearer now through the pink light of Elena's sword. Elena looked surprised at the glistening cut, her face's features sharp in pink lighting. "I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, clear regret on her voice.

"You have no idea what you're doing! If you run out there you're gonna get yourself killed and you're gonna leave us to die helplessly. He said don't fight it!" Accusatory, Louise's words pierced Elena from her side. "You think this is some sort of movie, some anime where you're gonna save everyone? You think you're some sort of hero, out to save the day?"

It was too much.

"I'm trying to be one!" Elena shouted at the top of her lungs, her eyes closed, her throat tight and tense. Immediately afterwards, she faced the crossroads and ran as fast as she could towards where she thought the sound had come from.

Behind her, in the quickly disappearing pink light, Nicolle grabbed her cut hand and sucked in air through her teeth. She shoot one glance towards the bobbing light of Elena's sword as she ran, one glance to the clearly terrified form of Louise quickly being engulfed by darkness.

"Goddammit!" She exclaimed, spittle flying from her mouth, and quickly took off after the light.

========================================================================================== =================================

There was light ahead, golden light. It shone in a bright rectangular shape, coming out of a doorway to the left. Huffing and holding her cut hand, Nicolle ran to the doorway. She stood there for a minute or two, painting and letting her eyes grow accustomed to the change in lighting. When she finally opened them, she saw Elena standing in the center of a room not unlike the one they'd woken up in, if only a little smaller in diameter and without a closable gate. At her feet, torn, bloody, and mangled, was a human leg.

"Hey," Nicolle said, walking closer, her sides still hurting from the sudden run. "Did your parents ever tell you not to run with sharp objects?"

She smiled at her weak joke, trying to make light of the situation, but Elena was clearly shaken. She began to walk towards Nicolle as well, faster as she got closer. Before she could react, Nicolle found herself locked in tight hug with a sobbing girl. Surprised, she could only figure to return the hug and raise her intact hand to pat the smaller girl's head, saying there there as if talking to a little child. She winced slightly when her bleeding hand touched Elena's back but Elena didn't seemed to notice as she buried her face in her chest and cried. Bit of a crybaby, this one.

As she held her, standing a full head taller, it happened. All she wanted to do was help this crying girl. There was something desperate about the way she talked and acted, something that touched Nicolle deeply. As she felt this, unable to reach out and help, Nicolle's hand came down a little too low and brushed the skin of Elena's neck. It wasn't the first human contact she'd had after waking up inside the Pillar, but it was the answer to a question that she'd been unable to answer herself. That was it. Nicolle knew. Nicolle understood.

She brought both hands up and gently but firmly pushed Elena's chest away from her chest. She locked eyes and concentrated on the feeling, chasing the desire to help, to understand. There, she thought as she found it again, open like a book to read.

"We can't be sure if they're dead yet. If they aren't, they'll need you and your sword, understand?"

Elena nodded after a while and rubbed her reddened eyes, finally breaking the hug and taking a step back. Nicolle walked past her and examined the leg laying on the ground. She went down to touch it but withdrew her hand as soon as she placed it upon the dead flesh, sucking in air through her teeth. Then, she took a big breath and, slower this time, touched the leg again.

"What are you doing?" Asked Elena, as she got closer. Nicolle stood up.

"It wasn't bitten off." She said, matter-of-factly. "The leg wasn't bit off."

"How do you know?"

"The cut is too straight and there's too little blood around." She said, as she examined the other exit in the room, opposite to the one the girls had used. "A wound like that would make a terrible mess. In fact, there's too little blood in general. There's is no blood trail at all leading out of the room." She pointed out.

Elena took a quick glance around the room. "Now that you mention it I can see it. There's no blood anywhere on the room but close to the leg. Odd." She agreed. "What does it mean?"

"Well, either a very good, or a very bad thing." Nicolle walked up to the wall and placed her hand there. Nothing, just a wall. "Either our mystery person got eaten so quickly that they were unable to bleed all over the place, or they were able staunch the bleeding and get away within seconds of being struck." Nicolle gestured with one hand and then the other as she spoke, and she winced when she moved the hand that had been cut. While Elena's sword was very sharp, Nicolle had let go of it sufficiently quickly and the cut wasn't deep but instead long across her palm. Still, a thin crimson line was running down her elbow. Elena saw, and she immediately reacted by walking in front of her and swiftly cutting a ribbon of fabric from her shirt with her sword. It was kinda frightening how comfortable she moved and handled such a sharp tool so close to her own body. She took the ribbon and wrapped it around the wound, tying a little knot once she was done. "I'm sorry." She croaked, barely audible.

"Hey, it's nothing to be sorry about. It was just a heated moment." Nicolle smiled to the smaller girl but Elena didn't seem to be able to look up at her. "What's wrong?" Nicolle asked as she reached out to touch Elena's arm.

"Louise" Elena said as she turned her back to Nicolle. Oh. Nicolle's hand stopped. "I left her behind, didn't I?" As quickly as she had come back, Elena seemed to slip back into crying mode. Nope.That just wouldn't do.

"Hey! Hey, hey,hey. We left her behind." Nicolle hurried before completely losing her. "The two of us. She made a choice and we did as well, There isn't anything left to think about." It wasn't the right thing to say, Nicolle knew, but she also knew had just realized that she didn't want to abuse her touch. Man, this gift is going to get problematic down the line, she thought.

"Right now, we can only do one thing. If you want, we can head back and search for Louise. It will be hard, what with the darkness and how hard is in this place to get around. Besides, she's tiny and she isn't dumb. She's probably trying her hardest right know to be unfindable. Or," Nicolle stepped forward and turned Elena around to face her, taking care to only grab her by her shoulders, where her t-shirt was intact. "we could go and help this other person. You know, the one that's hobbling about with only one leg, a beast hot on their trail?" They'd never come to a conclusion as to whether the owner of the leg had been devoured or had been able to escape, but Nicolle wasn't about to bring it up. She hated herself for it, but Nicolle had chosen to follow Elena into the darkness, had made a snap decision into facing a beast, and she needed Elena the hero right now, not Elena the crybaby.

After a moment of recollection, Elena nodded. "You're right." She said. "Thank you. Damm, that's twice now that you've calmed me down. You must think I'm such a fraud. I feel like an idiot for what I said before, trying to be a hero. I mean, who says that?" She smiled apologetically. Nicolle smiled as well, wider. "Well, I don't know anything about a fraud. I do know that I decided to follow a hero." Elena suddenly looked up with a surprised look on her face. Her mouth was barely open, and a lovely pink rosiness spread quickly on her cheeks. Looking down on her, disheveled brown hair, pink eyes wide on an oval-shaped, blood-stained freckled face, slender but defined strong sword-carrying arms, very, very tattered shirt barely disguising her toned midriff and the lack of anything beneath it, Nicolle became very aware of Elena's presence before her.

"Ummm..." She coughed and quickly looked away. She took off her black leather jacket as nonchalantly as she could and offered it to Elena. "You know, your shirt..." Elena's face went from pink to beet red in the span of a second. She yanked the jacket without looking and put it on as quickly as she could, switching her sword from hand to hand as she inserted her arms and then doing up the buttons. Elena sufficiently covered up, the two of them stood up without moving or looking at each other, each examining the floor as hard and thoroughly as they could.

"So!" Said Nicolle when she felt the moment stretch longer than was bearable. "Ready to head back out there?"

"Y-Yeah." Said Elena, relieved. The jacket was a little too big for her but it was also warm. Calmed down, Nicolle turned back to face her. She thought of saying something extremely cringy but contained herself. Instead, she walked over to the gaping gate opposite the one through which they'd entered the room. Elena soon followed and stood beside her, looking into the darkness, that particularly determined look back on her face. Would it last this time? Nicolle asked herself. It doesn't matter, she answered her own question. She would bring it back as many times as they needed.

"Want me to hold your sword for you? I promise to be careful and not touch the blade." Nicolle offered.

Elena seemed to give it some thought. "No." She finally said. "We're not the hunted anymore. From now on, we are the ones doing the hunting and the sooner our prey comes after us, the better."

Oh man, what did I just unleash? Nicolle thought, but she was smiling again as she followed Elena's light once again into the darkness.

======================================================================================= ===================================

Somewhere, we don't know how far away or how close, there is a little girl. Somewhere, there is a little girl with pale blond hair, pale skin and black eyes. Somewhere, there is a little cold girl in an old coat too big for her and wearing white torn jeans stained with deep red. Somewhere, the girl is hiding.

Somewhere, she's found a room with a door her size. A strange tiny room, surrounded by gigantic ones. Somewhere inside that room, she's siting against a wall, trying to still her breath, the puffs turning into white clouds invisible to her, its breeze the only warm air around her.

And somewhere, a place she'd gladly give a limb to be taken from, she's trying hard, very hard, to ignore the grating sound of spike-like tar-black hair scratching against the wall on the other end of her little door that nightmares darker than darkness can't fit through.

======================================================================================== ==================================

"So...We're lost, right?" Nicolle's whisper only served to make the silence around them all the more evident. The screams had been gone for a while now, from even before they'd found the severed leg.

"Yeah." Answered Elena, troubled. While her sword's pink light was very bright close to them, it seemed to lose most of its strength after a couple of meters. As things turned out, it was a pretty ineffective torch. "Should we start making a lot of noise?" She asked. Nicolle nearly jumped in surprise at the mere mention of such a thing.

"Wow, wow, slow down there, champ. I get what you're saying but do you really want to get that thing to come to us?" Nicolle glanced around. They were in the middle of a long hallway, with no doors or crossings nearby. "And do you want to do it here? We'd only have one way of escaping and I'm pretty sure we don't want to end up having to run away from it in a straight line."

"Yeah, I know and I'm sorry, but I just can't stop thinking about it. Every second we spend lost its another second in which that thing could be going after someone else, after Louise. We know this place is huge and we could wander for hours on end. If it's not coming after us on its own then we have to make it do it. I get if you wanna back out, but I can't stand it."

"No. No, that's not what I meant. You surprised me, is all. And I'm not gonna leave you out here all alone after getting you to keep looking for the beast. Just, uh... I mean, we don't even know what it looks like."

"I do know. It's like a huge black cat, the size of a building, and it has orange eyes. But you're right. If we're gonna attract it we should choose a better place." She took Nicolle's hand in hers and began walking down the corridor.

"I'm not a little kid, you know? And I can see now with the light from your pink sword." Nicolle's voice came from behind Elena's back. She immediately let go. "Sorry."

"No worries. Actually, I'm curious, how old are you?

"18, you?"

"Man, you're a baby. I'm 21."

Elena quickly glanced back, annoyed. Another person barely older than her acting as if she were a kid. Great. "What? How am I a baby? You're barely older than me."

"Yeah, sure. Tell that to the cute barista I was flirting with yesterday." Nicolle sounded pretty self-satisfied. Elena huffed.

"As if the right to legally get wasted made any difference. I've been drunk before, you know? Like once... or twice..."

"Sure you have." Returned Nicolle, mocking. "Baby."

Elena raised her eyes in annoyance, although Nicolle couldn't see them. There was a moment of silence as they reached the end of the hallway. It opened into another hallway, perpendicular to the one they were in. Elena crouched, motioning for Nicolle to do the same. Once they were both crouching down, their backs to the smooth stone wall, Elena turned and offered her sword to Nicolle, quickly glancing past her as she did.

"Huh? Now you want me to carry it?"

"The light is hurting my night vision. Just hold on to it for a bit while I look ahead."

Nicolle, making sure to grasp it only by the handle and nowhere near the blade. received the sword back. Darkness flooded around them like a dark tide.

"You know, talking about that cute barista, how are we ever going to get back? To Earth, I mean?" In the darkness, Nicolle's voice sounded anything but self-satisfied. With everything that had happened, the thought hadn't crossed Elena's mind yet. There just hadn't been a calm moment like this to come to the realization that they were trapped in a different world, without even knowing if there was a way to get back to Earth and their loved ones.

Their loved ones. Erika. Even though she felt a pang of nostalgia and pain, Elena quickly dismissed the thought. Stay. Focused. No more crying.

"Heh. You don't need to answer that, I already know you're as lost as I am. I was just thinking aloud." Nicolle answered herself. Elena had finished scouting and turned around to get her sword back. As she took it, slowly so as to not surprise Nicolle, her face lit up from below. She placed a hand on Nicolle's shoulder.

"We will find a way back, don't worry." That said, she stood up and offered the same hand for Nicolle to haul herself upright. Nicolle quickly took it with her intact hand and stood up. Elena took the hallway to the right. "Let's go. This way."

"You're done?" Nicolle asked, somewhat surprised.

"Yup."

"Wow, I always thought that for your eyes to adjust to the dark you had to wait some 20 minutes, but it took you like less than one. Enhanced eyes are pretty useful." Nicolle praised her as they walked. Elena hadn't even noticed.

"Guess you're right. But you're pretty useful too. You've been on top of this whole superpower deal ever since Darion told us." Elena praised back.

Nicolle's voice betrayed a shy smile. "Well, who wouldn't? Didn't you wanted to have a superpower when you were a kid?"

"Yeah. When I was a kid." Answered Elena. "Oh wait, but how could I ever be a kid if I'm still a baby, huh?" Not a great burn, but she wouldn't let the opportunity pass her by.

"Hardee-har. We'll, I still think they're pretty cool. I used to draw comics when I was younger and I would spend entire afternoons thinking up fun or useful powers, like being unstoppable, using mind-control or telekinesis. I think powers here don't work quite like that, though they're still cool. To be honest, I'd be having the time of my life if it weren't for the whole murdering, leg-tearing, blood-crazy beast deal."

Elena chuckled a little. "Yeah, pretty much, although a change in scenery would also be welcome. Talking about powers, now that I think about it, I don't... You don't even know your power yet?" She stopped and turned back to face Nicolle, who was indeed smiling."... Or you do?" She quickly corrected, her face a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment.

Nicolle took a step forward and thrust one hand out. "Give me your hand and think of a color." Elena did so and Nicolle immediately spoke. "Red!" She exclaimed, maybe a little bit too loud, but very excited nonetheless.

"You can read minds by touching people?" Asked Elena, genuinely surprised.

"Not quite like reading minds outright, but you're not far off. I think I touch people and then get an understanding of them, a general sense of what they're feeling or thinking about. I didn't find out until... Not long ago, so I'm still trying to figure it out." She smiled again, a broad smile full of wonder, and Elena couldn't help but smile in response. The more time she spent with Nicolle, the more she was coming to like her.

"That's a really cool power, Nicolle." Elena said. She let go of Nicolle's hand and turned back to walking. They'd passed by several dark doorways and had come to another intersection between two hallways. This time, Elena turned to the left. A ways away, down the new corridor, there was the tell tale golden glow of an illuminated room.

"Thanks! And they're Gifts, not powers. Darion was very insistent about that for whatever reason." Corrected Nicolle, as she followed. "What I don't understand yet is how a Gift like that is supposed to help me fight beasts. He said that the reason for us having Gifts was so that we could fight but what am I supposed to do, empathize them to death?"

They had now reached the entrance to the lit room. It was a different room from the previous two, square in design, with two bare doorways facing each other, one of which they were standing under, and , on the left, a wide staircase leading up. There was a big pile of rubble in one of the corners opposite to their door, where a big chunk of black wall had been struck and brought down. Elena walked to the center of the room, bathing in the golden light.

"Well, you'll figure it out eventually. Maybe you're not supposed to be a fighting type. Maybe you're support, helping people and bringing everyone together, helping them deal with trauma and stuff like that." A thought crossed her mind. "Wait, you used it on me back in the other room, didn't you?"

Nicolle actually looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry." She answered, meekly. "That was when I found out about it. I know it's really invasive but I just wanted to help. I can promise to not do it again if you want."

"Don't be sorry, stupid. You really helped me back there, so it's fine." Elena didn't give the matter another thought. Nicolle was a good person in her book, even if she was a little too forward and assuming at times. "What do you think? I think we should call it from here. It's a big room with several entrances and there's light. We have more than two escape routes with plenty of space and you won't have to stay close to me to be able to see."

"Yeah, I guess this is as good as we're gonna get. Are you sure you wanna do this? Nicolle asked.

"That's what I should be asking you. Look, I'm built to fight this thing, supposedly, but you yourself said it, your ability isn't exactly the best in combat. I'll understand if you want to hide before I call it."

"No, absolutely not. I already told you, I'm not gonna back out now. If you're gonna do most of the heavy-lifting, then I'll support however I can. Maybe I can distract it while you deliver the killing blow or something." Nicolle walked until she stood next to Elena, face to face, determination written all over hers.

"Let's hope so." Elena said. No backing out now, then. She turned her back to Nicolle. "Turn your back to me and watch the other door. After I scream, you''l watch that door and I'll watch the other one. Speak up whenever you see the tiniest movement."

Nicolle did so and for a moment the two girls just stood there, back to back. Elena exhaled, one big puff, letting out all the air in her lungs. She felt the quiet around her, the way the stagnant air didn't seem to flow, the snail-like pace the light seemed to have as it crawled from up on high, the tremendous sense of antiquity around them. Somewhere, deep within her mind, there was a voice, sickened, terrified, anxiously screaming at her. It began as a small sound, barely audible, but soon grew loud and terrible.

You're barely 18. You have no combat training. You've never handled a sword. You've seen what's out there. You're scared. What about Dad? What about Erika? Do you want to die? You're scared. You're gonna die. You're scared. You have no idea what you're doing. What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?

What. Are. You. Doing?!

In that instant. she felt Nicolle's hand weave her way into hers. It was warm. It was sweaty. She was scared as well. In fact, Elena could feel the tension running through Nicolle's body, all the way from her ankles, up her hips and torso, through her shoulders and into the hand she had cast back into hers. Cast out, like one does an anchor or a cry for help. Elena realized that they were both terrified and, strangely, it comforted her. She was scared, but she wasn't alone. She didn't know what she was doing, but she wasn't the only one. She realized that, whether they wanted it or not, eventually they would have to face whatever was out there. The fact that they didn't know how to get back to Earth, or that they didn't know almost anything about the new world they were in. Yes, they were lost. But, at the very least, they were lost together. And, as simply as it had come to her before, she knew that she would face all odds to protect that togetherness and its source, sweatily holding on to her right hand.

She opened her lips and drew in a huge breath. Her chest filled and stretched outward. No backing out now.

"WAIT!"

Elena jumped in place, completely taken by surprise. It was, again, a male voice, although this one didn't have the rich baritone hues that Darion's voice used to have. Instead, this one was reedy and high.

"Wait, wait." Repeated the voice, wheezy, as if struggling with something. Nicolle swiveled her head, looking around the room. "Who are you? Show yourself!"

"I'm here, just... give me a second..." While Nicolle was still scanning the room, Elena had already pin-pointed the sound to the pile of rubble in the corner. She pulled on Nicolle's hand and they both watched as, from under it, emerged a pale pudgy guy crawling on his belly and arms. His neck-length hair was black, shiny and unkempt, placed atop a face made up of soft and round features. He struggled as he crawled out, obviously out of shape.

"What the... " Exclaimed Nicolle, her face openly showing disgust. "Someone was under all that? Why didn't you say something, for crying out loud?"

The new guy had barely gotten to his feet as he faced Nicolle. "Shhhhhh!" He said, angrily, placing one finger over his mouth. "Shut your mouth! Do you want that thing to find us?" Nicolle made a face, clearly offended. "What did you just say to me, you piece of shit?" She returned, even louder. Elena quickly placed herself between Nicolle and the new guy, trying to stop her from going off again. However, before she could do or say anything, Nicolle seemed to stand down on her own, although her face was still angry. Elena gave her a quizzical look. Nicolle answered by squeezing the hand she was still holding and Elena realized. Huh. Useful.

"You're the girls from the sleeping room." Said the new guy, who seemed unfazed by the insult, instead rather amazed by the sight of the girls. Elena looked at him. Now that he stood up, she could see that he wearing a dirty white tank top with a pair of brown boxer shorts."The sleeping room?" Elena asked.

"Yes, the one where everyone was sleeping." He answered, as if it were obvious. Somewhat surprisingly, he still seemed to be out of breath from his little crawl. He sniffed with a slurping sound, and then proceeded to wipe his nose with his hand, which he then proceeded to wipe on his tank top. Even Elena couldn't avoid making a face now.

"W-What?" He said, defensive but also somewhat embarrassed. "It's not my fault that I'm sick. Do you see any napkin dispensers just laying around? Would you rather that I just let it slide down my face?" Elena looked back at Nicolle in complete disbelief. Really? This guy? Really?

"You said a room where everyone was sleeping? By everyone, how many people exactly do you mean?" Nicolle asked, narrowing her eyes.

"You know..." He said, thinking.

"We don't. That's why we're asking." Nicolle cut in before he could finish, sharp.

"Alright, I get it. Geez." The boy said, defensive again, all wonder gone from his face. "There were 3 guys, me, and another girl aside from you two." Nicolle looked back to Elena. It seemed they weren't the only ones summoned.

"Another girl? A blonde girl? Small?" Asked Elena, just to confirm what she already knew.

"I don't know about small, but she was blonde, yes." Answered new guy. He stared at Elena for a second, and then quickly looked away. "What- What happened to you face?" He asked, uneasily. Elena suddenly remembered that there still blotches of blood on her face

"Don't worry about that for now. What happened with the others?" Deflected Nicolle. "You said there were 4 of you. When we woke up, we were alone. Where did you men go?" She emphasized the "men" of her phrase, as if she was blaming them for leaving the girls behind.

"Oh shit." The boy answered, eyes wide. "Of course! You girls were still sleeping when it happened. I guess you don't know about it, huh. Yes, that would explain why you were being so loud. Man, you're so fucking lucky to be alive right now. In fact, if it weren't for us you'd be dead just about now. I guess you got lucky when..." His volume got lower and lower as he talked to himself, a hand on his chin as his stream of thought kept coming out of his mouth.

"Hey! We're still here, dude. You can talk to us." Nicolle was getting more and more exasperated.

"Oh! Sorry, I tend to do that. I'm sorry, really." He answered, looking up. He glanced at Elena once more. "Umm... Are you sure she's fine?"

"Yes!" Said Nicolle. "Relax, its not her blood anyway. Now, talk. What happened?"

New guy didn't seem relaxed at all by Nicolle's answer. However, he did begin to talk. "Right... So, what happened was, we all woke up in that weird room with the gate, right? Well, I mean, not everyone at the same time, like, one after the other I think. I was the third one to wake up, and before me were Marcus and Alex, and then there was Will. You girls were there but no matter what we did you didn't wake up. You, you and the blond girl lying in snow. Anyways. when you girls didn't react we..."

"Wait, wait, wait. No matter what you did? What exactly did you do to us?" Nicolle's voice was low and growl-like. The new guy raised his hands before his chest frantically, apologetic. "Nothing, nothing! We just moved you a little and talked to you and stuff like that. We're not weirdos like that, I'm serious!"

"Are you now?" Said Nicolle, not convinced. "And who said anything about weirdos? What were you thinking about? Do you think I'm just gonna take that at face value? I know what men are like and you're not fooling anyone. Speak up, now."

"I can't speak up because there's nothing to speak up about!" New guy was getting desperate, and somewhat irritated himself. "Listen, I get it, men are pigs and everything, that's what I meant by weirdos, but, like, we didn't do anything. I mean, I don't know what kind of dudes you've met, but you gotta believe me when I say that the last thing on our mind was ogling sleeping girls. I mean, look around us! Who can be horny when waking up in this place?"

Even though nobody had said anything about "ogling" either, Nicolle found that, unfortunately, the new guy's argument actually made sense. Sensing a lull in the conversation, almost shouting match at this point, Elena took over.

"Um, guys?" She said, at a normal volume. However, as none of the other two was saying anything, her voice gained her the attention she wanted. "I think we're all pretty stressed out, we're all on edge, and you're both taking it out on each other." She let go of Nicolle's hand and walked a little in the new guy's direction. "Instead, I think we should introduce each other, relax a little bit, and then we can talk properly, alright? I'll start. I'm Elena, nice to meet you. What's your name?" She looked at the pudgy boy specifically.

He still seemed a little bit uncomfortable looking at her. "E-Evan." He finally stammered out. Elena turned to look at Nicolle. When she didn't say anything, the look turned into a very succinct glare. She sighed and looked to the side.

"Nicolle." She surrendered her name again.

"Alright, Evan," Elena picked up, as normally as she could. "You were explaining to us what happened and how'd you ended up here?"

"Yes." Said Evan, pointedly trying to look at any point in the room but Elena. "Well, we woke up in that room, the sleeping room, right? No one knew what was happening. I thought it was a bad joke, like in a prank TV show. Marcus thought it was like in the movies, like we were all being tested for our sins and stuff but I wasn't so sure. We were there and Alex had this glowing spear, pretty much the same as that sword you have, except his was yellow. We were all checking it out when Marcus found you girls, laying on the floor." Evan had a strange manner of speech. His phrases would drag out, as if he wasn't quite sure of what word to use next. That, coupled with the words he did stammer out, made his narration jumbled and stilted, more like a ramble than anything else.

"We went over there and tried to wake you up." Nicolle glared at him and he hastily corrected himself. "Very respectfully tried to wake you up. But nothing we did would work. It was like, like you were hypnotized or something. And then, then... The thing showed up." He stopped for a second, as if running out of air.

"What thing, Evan?" Asked Elena.

"I don't know." He said, but quickly corrected himself again. "I-I mean, I do know. I saw it. Everyone saw it. It came in through those huge doors, pushing them open as if they weighed nothing. Like, it didn't do anything at first, just standing there looking at us and we didn't do anything either. I think that was the moment where everyone realized this was sometime else, no TV show, no movie, no nothing. Then it roared and jumped after us." Evan looked down.

"I don't really remember what happened next exactly. It's a blur. We ran, trying to get away but Alex wanted to carry your bodies. He asked us for help but Marcus was behind me and pushed me, told me to keep running, so I did. I heard... I heard Alex screaming behind us." Tears now, and more stuffed sniffing. "I know it was wrong but I was just so scared. It just... We... We ran in the darkness, Marcus and me, and we came to a room like this. Not, not this one, another one. But it found us. I don't know how, but it came through the door and was on Marcus in a second. I don't know what happened to him. I ran again and ended up here, hiding." He finished and sniffed again, his face wet with tears, which he proceeded to clean with the back of his hand and onto the tank top.

Elena and Nicolle glanced at each other, and Elena thought that she could see the slightest amount of remorse in Nicolle's face. Turning back to face Evan, Elena tried to think of something to say. However, he was already talking again.

"That's why I told you to shut up!" He said, vehemently. "That thing is out there looking for us. And, and, I don't know. I heard you when you entered the room, what you were talking about... You were talking of calling someone here and I thought I should let you know that it was a terrible idea and that's when I came out and you yelled at me." He wiped his face once more." That's about it, I think. What about you? What happened with Alex? Are you trying to call him? Please tell that you're not trying to call Alex, or, or, anyone." He offered an unsure smile, as if trying to convince them to stay quiet.

"Welll..." Said Elena, unsure of how to let him know the bad news.

"Please?" He said, smiling wider and more desperate.

"Look, dude, we get it, you're scared shitless." While Nicolle's voice had lost most of its edge, it was still cold and firm. "First of all, stop smiling like that, it's creepy. Second of all, sorry to break it to you, but we're not calling anyone. We are going to call the beast, right here, right know. Not your friend Alex or whoever, but the big, bad, crazy beast." Well, there goes that remorse, Elena thought as she braced for the impact.

However, Evan just stood there, seemingly taking a little while to process the stupidity of what he'd just heard. Then his face contorted, his eyes went wide and then narrowed, his brow raised only to come crashing down into an angry frown. His mouth opened wide, first in disbelief and then to shout, but he seemed to catch himself at the last second and, instead of shouting, overcompensated by lowering his voice so much that he was effectively whispering.

"ARE YOU INSANE?" He desperately mouthed. Elena immediately switched into damage control.

"You don't have to stay here if you don't want to! We can, like, wait a little for you to get away from this place before we call it." She said, hoping to assuage him. Evan couldn't believe it, specially coming from the girl with the blood-splattered face.

"What?" He said, at a normal sound level, although still outraged. "And go back out there? In the dark? Alone? No. No sir. I don't know what's wrong with you two but if you plan to throw your lives away like that, you can do it somewhere else. I found this room first, its my room, and I'm going to stay here, thank you very much."

Nicolle was unfazed. "Suit yourself. It doesn't really matter anyways, since we've making so much noise that the beast is probably already on its way here anyway. Elena, ready?"

Elena had a moment of doubt, as she saw the expression on Evan's chubby face turn to helpless realization, but nodded anyway and took position behind Nicolle.

"You guys... You guys can't do this to me." Evan whined, desperation clear on his face. Elena answered, although she did not turn to look at him. "I'm sorry Evan, but the beast is not going to go away if we just turn our backs to it and wish it gone. Somebody's got to face it and bring it down, and since the original guy who was gonna do that is dead, I've decided to do it myself. As I said, you're free to leave."

"The original guy? You met one of the others?" Asked Evan, a tinge of hope breaking through the despair.

"I don't think so, no. It was someone else, someone who was summoned here before all of us. He explained some of what is going on to us before... before getting killed." Elena's voiced faltered a little, a familiar pang of pain flaring inside her chest.

"Yeah." Continued Nicolle. "The blood on Elena's face is his. He was supposed to protect us and let us know what was going on, but he couldn't finish getting us up to speed before the beast got to him. He did tell us some stuff."

"Stuff? What stuff?" Asked Evan, increasingly lost.

"Oh you know, the usual." Answered Nicolle, in a nonchalant tone. "Stuff like the fact that we all have superpowers called Gifts and we've been brought to another dimension to fight the very beasts that made you piss your pants and run like a coward." Nicolle seemed to enjoy picking on the chubby guy.

"Powers? Gifts?... Another dimension?" Said Evan, staring at the floor with that "I'm talking to myself" look beginning to appear on his face. However, and as much as he would like to be just talking to himself, alone in his nice cozy rubble, he wasn't. His face suddenly lit up and he looked at the girls. "So...this is an isekai?" He half asked, half proclaimed. Everything made sense now.

"Yes." - "Pretty much." Said Nicolle and Elena at the same time. They turned to look at each other quickly, surprised that the other knew the term. Nicolle chuckled first and then laughed. Of course. Of course the cute, MC-like "I'm trying to be a hero" girl knew what an "isekai" was. A girl after my own heart, she thought, delighted.

However, Elena didn't return the laughter. Instead she just stood there, pink eyes looking past her, a frozen expression on her face. With a sudden fear that slashed her delight to pieces in an instant, Nicolle realized that this was not the first time she'd seen Elena space out like that. Too late.

There was a quick whooshing sound as a black blur shot into the room from beyond the darkness beyond the door that Nicolle was supposed to be staring at. She had the exact amount of time necessary to close her eyes and curse as she felt the air being frantically pushed toward her. She felt the deadly cylinder draw close to her back, like an unstoppable cannon ball, all in a matter of seconds. The impact drove all the air out of her lungs and pushed her over, sending her flying across the room. She fell hard on her side, and wheezed as she desperately tried to breathe. Somewhere, in a place she would soon leave, Evan was screaming, an irritating high pitched noise. Great, she thought, just fucking great. She was gonna die and leave Elena alone with an useless coward. Nice going Nicolle, you can even fuck shit up in alternate dimensions.

As she berated herself, she felt her diaphragm finally return to her control and air inundate her lungs once more. She immediately braced herself for the tremendous wave of pain she knew would follow. However, no pain came. With her eyes still closed she quickly palmed her abdomen, where she had felt the impact hit her. The only pain she felt came from her cut hand, which she pressed a little too strongly against herself. Only then did she open her eyes, expecting to see a mess of blood and guts, some kind of wound so terrible that it somehow had sent her nerves into shock. However, her belly was fine. Her hips were fine. Even the shirt she'd worn under her jacket was fine, if a little dirty with blood from when she'd pressed her bandaged hand against it and moved it a little. Her mind racing, she raised her eyes.

Directly in front of her, standing strong, golden light gently cascading off her light skin and brown hair, Elena was framed by the yawning door. The left sleeve of the leather jacket Nicolle had lent her was completely in tatters. From what Nicolle could see, the skin underneath was red, bruised, and bleeding in places. She was about to ask what had happened when she saw what stood beyond, what her little hero faced, and all words left her.

Beneath the door, emerging viscous from the dark, was a thing made up of black rolling fur and staring orange eyes. It was as tall as the huge doorway, maybe even taller, as it seemed to have to bend its back just to fit through the door. It moved slowly, as slowly as a flower unfolding its petals, growing larger and larger as it entered the room and more and more of its colossal form flooded into the light. Its fur was a deep black that seemed to absorb all light that fell upon it, blurring contour and annihilating perception of depth. Staring into that fur, Nicolle felt as if staring into an abyss that fell on and on forever.

Once it completely entered the room, it drew its body upon itself as if it were a liquid tide of tar with heavy but soundless steps and then it stood still, its head hanging a full 4 or 5 meters higher than Elena's, its gargantuan body darkening its side of the room just by being there. From behind it, making that characteristic whooshing sound as it sliced through the air, a robust tail, wide as a tree trunk and at least twice the length of the beast's body, moved from side to side like a sickle and finally came to a stop on its left side, turning straight and metal-like in a snap. As it did, the hair covering the tail became a mass of innumerable thorns, rigid and pointed, the only part of the beast that reflected the light into thousands and thousands of wicked angles.

Two swordsmen, one tiny and white, bathed in pink and golden hues, the other huge and dark, light-absorbing and blood-crazed, facing each other in an autumn field at sundown.

"There you are." Whispered Elena, barely over the sound of her own breath.

========================================================================================= =================================

Everything is possible in the dark. There are no prerogatives, no doubts, no limits. In the unyielding black of deepest night, the mind takes on a different quality and a different sense. The power of godhood comes to it, unbridled and unhinged, and it holds the mind hostage, enacting its will cruelly and savagely. It makes the wildest fantasies break through the psyche and it drags the deepest of fears up from the subconscious depths, bringing them dangerously close to the fragility of the waking self.

Lonely Louise, a cold snowflake resting on the windowsill of an empty house in a windless full-moon night, experienced this effect firsthand.

She was sitting, huddled against one of the corners of her tiny room. She had her eyes open as far as they could go but the tenacious black gave up no outline, no shape, nothing to guide them by. Outside, in the hallways, at least some residual light from the lit rooms scarcely bounced off the walls, making it possible, albeit very poorly, to see and make away through the endless maze. No such reflected light ever made its way inside the small room, the entrance of which was already tucked away in an already almost lightless corner of the hallways,

It had been a while now since she had stopped hearing the beast outside her room. The rustling fur and the growling were gone, but that didn't necessarily mean that the beast itself was gone. She remembered the first time she'd seen it. She'd been defenseless and yet the beast had bid its time instead of eating her. Instead of striking at the powerless bodies of the three sleeping girls, it had waited and only attacked once it was sure it would kill its prey. Furthermore, even when Darion had been incapacitated, even then it hadn't jumped on them. She hadn't realized it at the time, but the beast could've killed all of them at that point, if it had desired so. Yet, it retreated and waited, waited for the girls to follow it into the darkness.

So, there was no guarantee that now it wasn't waiting outside, keeping very still and very hungry, patiently waiting to snatch her up as soon as she left her refuge.

Tough shit.

Enough sitting. Louise took a deep breath, holding it in for as long as she could and then letting it out, slowly. Then, she stood up, back to the corner, and placed one hand on the walls to each side. She knew that the entrance to the room was to her left, so she began to follow the wall to the right. Slowly, her feet barely lifting of the ground, she made her away around the room. After taking five or so steps, her hand suddenly pushed against something round that was sticking out of the wall. Louise palmed it, unsure of what it was.

It had a roughly circular shape and was soft to the touch, like a polished brass doorknob. Could it really be? A doorknob? Here? Based on all that had happened, she wouldn't be surprised. Seeing no harm in it, Louise decided to try her luck and attempted to turn the thing on its side, hoping against all odds to hear the familiar sound of a lock clicking open. Instead, the thing simple dislodged itself from the wall. Well, there goes that hope.

Louise brought it as close as she could to her face but the darkness obscured it completely. Disappointed, she almost threw it to the side. However, she thought better of it, on account of the sound it would generate. She knelt down to quickly leave it on the floor but before she could do it she saw. Looking at the round thing, she noticed that she could see the outline of her fingers against and behind it, on account of it emitting a barely visible ocher yellow glow.

Light? She thought, and, as if responding to her thoughts, the stone lit up like a star, exploding in an abundance of clear and pure light, extremely white, temporarily blinding Louise. She blinked once, twice, bringing her left arm up to shield her eyes from the brightness emanating from her right hand. After her eyes had accustomed, she took a moment to examine her surroundings.

It seemed that the only thing that was small about the room was it entrance. Now she could see that she'd taken refuge inside a long rectangle, at least a hundred yards long and ten across. Its walls, while as polished and etched with designs as the ones outside, were covered here and there by small crystal growths, and its ceiling was nowhere to be seen, rising into darkness so high up that the bright light held by Louise couldn't reach it.

On the wall to her right was more crystal. It seemed to follow the bas-relief designs, travelling along the straight lines and only growing outwards from the wall in places where the designs circled around themselves. Some of the crystals sticking out had perfect geometrical shapes with several perfectly spaced sides, while others grew in a more relaxed manner, like balls of spun, billowed glass. On a whim, Louise reached out and broke off another hunk of crystal. As before, it remained barely incandescent until Louise thought of light, at which point it lit up in spectacular fashion. Convenient.

She proceeded to grab three chunks more. Keeping the one she'd originally found in her right hand, she coupled the other chunks into pairs and placed them safely inside the pockets of her coat. While placing them there, she noticed that while the crystals still emitted light once she wasn't holding them, the quality of the light they gave off did degrade slowly. Once she had her light crystals safely pocketed away, she looked all the way to the other end of the room. Just as she expected, there was a small rectangle of black at the other end, acting as another tiny entrance to the crystal room. She began to walk.

As she walked, she was surprised to find that her sleeve, and on further inspection all of her clothing, was covered in a very fine layer of snow that was being shaken off with every step. Had she been producing it all along, even while she was being chased by the beast? She briefly turned back to glance at the corner where she'd huddled down on the ground, terrified as the beast thrashed and growled, trying to fit its humongous body into the tiny door. Sure enough, there was a small patch of snow in the corner. Glancing at the small entrance, she realized that she had been truly lucky to find this place.

After Elena and Nicolle had abandoned her, going off to rescue some distant sound, not knowing what to do or which way to take in the dark, she'd just stood there, at a physical and mental crossroads. She hated to admit it to herself. She wasn't supposed to be like that anymore. Still, fear, fear of the dark and of the unknown, had won and her legs wouldn't listen. Even more, there was a part of her, a part that she would've liked to ignore, that was telling her that she'd made a mistake, that Elena was right and that she should have followed her, even if it was stupid. Maybe it was that she recognized the fact that their strength was in numbers and that being left alone would only single her out, leave her helpless against a foe she had no hopes of defeating. Or maybe, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, there was still a little bit of wide-eyed kid in her that wanted to be a hero, just like Elena had so brazenly declared. Yeah right, she said in her mind as soon as the thought crossed it.

The truth of the matter was that she had not been able to move since the girls left her, and it had saved her life. As she stood there, somehow, the beast had come from the hallway to her right and passed right by her.

She couldn't believe it. With her eyes straining to see in the dark she could barely distinguish it as a huge, ever-changing shape that stomped around with oddly soft footsteps, crossing the crossroads perpendicularly to her, walking barely a couple of steps in front of her face. Its paws weren't completely silent, but considering the fact that every time they came down they were followed by a small explosion of wind, Louise couldn't begin to figure out just how it was able to move around so quietly. As soon as she had felt the beast leave the crossroads, spurred on by the sheer unlikeliness of what had just happened and by a desire to get as far away as possible, she began to move as silently as possible in the direction that the beast had come, hoping to put as much space between it and herself as quickly as she could. However, as fickle as the turn of the coin, her luck shifted. Without seeing it, she kicked a pebble with her feet. It skidded noisily over the floor, barely producing bouncing one or two times as it soon came to a stop. However, it had been one bounce too many. With a spine-chilling fear, Louise had felt a new gust of wind come from her back. This time her legs did listen. Run.

There followed a crazy race in the penumbral dark. Louise didn't scream and the beast didn't roar. Instead, her running was punctuated by the ever-increasing blasts of wind the beast made as it half galloped, half leaped after her. Louise made turn after turn, hoping to use the maze against her pursuer, which, she had no doubt, would overtake her easily in a straight dash. After turning and turning, getting more and more lost into the maze, she'd finally run into a dead end. The weak lighting that her eyes had depended on to be able to make out her surroundings steadily disappeared, leaving only a black abyss in front of her. Still, she kept running. Still, the air behind her kept exploding towards her. Finally, she hit her shoulder against a wall but seemed to walk through it. She threw her arms around, desperate to know where to keep running, and felt the outline of the small door that would be her salvation, barely a meter across. Feeling a sliver of hope, she ran on, feeling both walls of the slight corridor that would turn out to be the entrance to the crystal room. One, two, three, four steps and she stopped feeling the narrow walls, stepping into safety. She threw herself to her right, into the first corner she could find, huddled down, and cried. Outside, there was a huge impact and a tremendous column of air passed through the narrow entrance hallway. After that, she only remembered crying and growling and that awful scratching sound.

Enough, she berated herself pulling herself of the all too recent memory as she came to the end of the room. You're not a child anymore. You're old enough to take care of yourself. You will make it out alive. You will survive. She reassured herself as she reached the room's other exit. Unlike the other one she had used, this one was not a narrow hallway but a normal doorway. Determined as she was, she crossed the threshold without even slowing her gait.

Even if you're alone, even if you're not a hero. You. Will. Survi-

Her thoughts were cut short by a terribly firm grasp in the back of her neck. She was pulled roughly to the side, as if she were a mere rag doll, turned around and slammed against the wall next to the door, pushing the air out her lungs. Her eyes unfocused, she fought to breathe, squirming under the heavy hold. However, her squirming quickly came to a halt, as she felt a cold blade push dangerously hard underneath her chin and against her throat. It moved upwards slowly, with a force she couldn't ignore, until she was on the tip of her toes, and then it stopped.

There was a beat of silence. Finally focusing, Louise found her eyes turned downward, toward the blade jammed against her airway. It was a long, wide, curved thing that she could barely make out, glowing a subdued dark blue. Looking beyond it and up, she saw a wide cleavage on a tank-top wearing chest which held aloft a strong neck, a sharp jawline, full lips crossed on the left by a badly healed scar, a broken nose, and confident, narrow, bird-of-prey eyes covered by the unruly dark hair of a mane that obscured the eyebrows and forehead of her captor.

Louise stared at that face and the stranger stared back. She smiled. It was not a kind smile.

Fuck.

Texto agregado el 15-05-2019, y leído por 152 visitantes. (1 voto)


Para escribir comentarios debes ingresar a la Comunidad: Login


[ Privacidad | Términos y Condiciones | Reglamento | Contacto | Equipo | Preguntas Frecuentes | Haz tu aporte! ]