Fresh Air and Red Skies (2)
by T. MORGAN
Eventually Ethos clawed, scrambled and struggled his way to the top, finally hauling himself over the swallow hole’s vast lip. He managed two paces, then buckled and collapsed into a web of thick vines trailing from a tree and sunk down. Rest, just rest for a while… Just for a while…
They had no choice, absolutely no choice. If they didn’t go willingly, they would have their dignity stripped before being dragged, bodily, off to whatever depraved torture the elder two had planned for them. Hence, they merely marched in grim and defeated silence behind Masochiel, with Bizde pinning them from behind with a closed off gaze.
Without any sound but for directions, they made their way through roughly three lengths of corridor before stopping at an ill used door. Milo did not like the brown stains on the handle; they were discreet marks that had not been entirely sluiced away.
Unaware of or simply unfazed by these, Masochiel pushed the door open to its pull extent, however the room beyond was far too poorly lit to make out anything but a metal glint from what looked like an operating table.
Not promising, not promising at all. Then again, had they not, covering for their fugitive friend, beckoned this?
“Do go inside.” Masochiel grunted, striding in to stand on the tips of his boot-clad toes and light what seemed to be the only lantern in the room.
The table was most definitely for operating, and the rack of utensils along the wall was probably not for cooking; Roman knew of nobody who prepared their meals with a medical scalpel. The walls were much rougher hewn than most of the other tunnels and caves, it could easily have been left as it had naturally formed, aeons ago. There was a smaller side room but the light failed to reach into its depths. Bizde guided them wordless towards the table and gestured, in his disturbingly elegant way, for them to sit. The words ‘make yourself comfortable’ were almost legible on his pale face.
Once he had fixed the lantern, Masochiel walked to the wall that the cavernous door was set into.
Smiling without a hint of warmth, Bizde pulled out a notebook from seemingly nowhere; a trait he had for conjuring tricks that nobody could explain. From the same illogical place came a pen.
Meanwhile, behind them, Masochiel was paying a worrying amount of attention to the utensils on the rack…
After channeling every ounce of resilience he had into resisting the urge to lay down and die, Ethos staggered upright and began to fight his way through the forest. His ravaged back maintained an incessant mantra of torment but he blocked it out. All vines, all branches in his way, he ignored those too; just step, swipe, step, swipe. There was nothing except that forest, nobody to hunt or hurt, just the plants and the iridescent birds surrounding him.
Once finished, Masochiel set a selection of five or so tools down on the table; neither of the cadets dared look at it enough to count properly. It was most likely for sheer intimidation, however, for Masochiel soon settled against the door and watched them blankly while Bizde conjured another object from nothing: this time a knife. By now, his intention was unmistakable.
Setting the blade down in a calm and deliberate manner, Bizde took then pen and presently began to write.
I am warning you. If you wish to tell us any information you have presently, we will not have to resort to unsavory methods. he held up the note for them to read.
His vocabulary, clearly, was not limited by the time it took for his neat hand to scratch it out. He was in no hurry.
After reading the note and settling their nerves, the friends exchanged lamb-faced glances. Neither needed to state their answer aloud, however. They simply shook their heads in complete and stolid unison. Cocking his head, Bizde smiled again, though this time it was almost sadistic. Roman immediately wondered if they were to be the unfortunate outlets for his frustration. Either way, they were undoubtedly in for a veritable waking nightmare.
For some time, Ethos walked in circle until he took a short knife from his belt and began to make notches in trees. It may not have been of much use but, it was certainly comforting. Thus he continued, marking his progress to nowhere.
Bizde spread his hand sideways and Masochiel came over.
“Alright then. Haelyn.” he looked at the redhead and for a second Milo could have sworn his life that his ruby eyes looked forlorn. Somehow, it was more disturbing that the monster was not as beastly as he seemed. “Come with me.” he lifted a gloved hand and crooked a finger. Unable to do anything else, Milo cast a final glance at Roman and followed into the blind adjacent room.
The other adult was already busy writing; taking his time as if he were sending a letter to a close friend, though most doubted he had any.
Well, Roman. Your friend is quite safe next door – for now. Again, I am quite serious. Tell me what you know, and you may return to your room as before. He again lifted the book for Roman to see and stood, picking the knife up and setting the notebook down where it had rested. Absently, he played with the switchblade mechanism. In, then out, in, then out with a soft rasping noise each time.
“I will tell you nothing!” Roman suddenly shouted, though could not lift his leaden stare from the table.
Without warning, Bizde slammed the knife down between the first and second joint of his left ring finger. Then, lifting the blade; he smiled again. Restraining a scream, Roman threw himself off his chair and stared down at his bleeding hand. Without a word, Bizde tapped the notebook and winked, though there was a hidden anger in his hawk-like eyes.
His finger bleeding, Roman gritted his teeth, forced himself to look at his enemy and… Shook his head.
“Never.” he spat, though his voice cracked. Again, that smile, and Roman’s heart began the slow journey down through the floor as the elder man slunk into the other room..
How long had it been? Minutes or hours? Ethos tried to be optimistic but he knew it to be well into the latter. Panic rose again – NO! Even if he wandered for days, he had been well taught. Better this than that man, he thought, unaware of what Lowell was doing to his closest friend.
Roman could not count the time he had been waiting, drowning in fear and anxiety. He had no idea what had happened to Milo; what could be happening right now? Having thought that, he would hear if Milo made a noise. Despite the pain of having a finger removed, Roman had remained quiet, though, so…
At long last, Bizde re-entered the room and leaned against the doorway. Though his hands were still smothered in blood he was not perturbed ,and simply scrawled in his apathetic manner. Suddenly, there came a muffled sob from the adjacent room. Milo was alive, but by no means well.
I am giving you one more chance. Oh, you heard that? Bizde held it up for a second then continued to write. I give you one more chance, Roman, dear. Just one more.
The page was by now splattered with red, it was all up Bizde’s otherwise tallow arms, dripping down the pen in gory rivulets. These bloody hands he now raised, after dropping the book to smack on the ground. His expression now one of conviction but still, that sick amusement. On one hand – Roman felt it was deliberately his left – he held up five fingers the cadet no longer had.
One by one, his fingers dropped, but Roman made no sound. When only the thumb remained, Roman shut his eyes, and shook his head, one side, the other.
Abruptly, Bizde slammed his hand against the door-frame with a loud and echoing thud. There was the briefest of pauses, then a resounding crack that took too long to die. A gunshot.
Roman could only pray that the sound had taken longer to die than his friend had. It took a few seconds for his voice to return, but when it did, it was a surge he could not control. One friend was dead, the other may well have been, for what?! Without realizing, his despair burst out in a visceral cry that rose from somewhere he didn’t know he had. And… For what…
Ethos’ blind stumbling and wanderings led him to something that could only be called a cliff. Far, far below the tops of the trees were visible in a ring, but directly below him it was just dead earth and yet more roots. His fear deserted him for a moment, leaving him free, and he crept closer, staring down the gaping single jaw of the precipice.
Closer, and closer, he edged, until his toes dangled over the edge and sent a cascade of dust and pebbles down, down to the shrinking ground. It was so far down he did not hear their dying noise.
Quietly, he felt a veil descend and as it continued it pulled his eyelids down. A gentle breeze rustled his hair and lifted it from his face. Slowly, he began to tilt. Let it all go… No more running… No more pain…
“Ethos.” there came a powerful male voice from behind him. Ethos’ eyes remained closed and he was still yearning forwards.
“ETHOS NEURO AMAURUS LISTEN TO ME!” it roared, with the rage and crackle of a wildfire in a dry and desolate forest. This caused Ethos to snap his eyes open and lurch back from the edge, realizing what he had almost done.
“Wh…Who are y-y-you?” he stammered, but feeling unable to turn around. There was an intense, though not unpleasant, heat on his back.
“That’s irrelevant.” the voice rumbled. “I suppose you could call me your will to live, if you care for such sentiments.”
Ethos shuffled forward and peered over the edge.
“But…” he murmured.
“No, Ethos. You don’t want to. No matter what suffering comes to you, you have survived your life so far. Why end it now when it has only just begun? You are young, and you have escaped from a fate worse than death here. Don’t mock you friend’s help by giving in now.”
Ethos stared at the floor; torn.
“You know not who you are. And the second you fall from that cliff, you doom yourself to never know.” the voice continues, crackling passionately behind him.
“Live, Ethos. For the sake of everything you know.”