Possibly one of the worst floors we’ve been on. For once I’m grateful Arkady’s going over this before it posts. As much as my hands are shaking, it’s going to need some serious editing.
There was a lot more mist on this floor than on the others. I could see about a foot in front of me, and everything else was dark. Occasionally the lightning outside would let me see dim outlines of shapes through the fog, but that was it.
Sky absolutely refused to go in, and Arkady puts enough trust in her intuition that he didn’t want to risk it. But given that the stairs above us were blocked by rubble, the only ways to continue going up would be either to backtrack until we found an alternate route, or try climbing the outside again. Neither of which sounded like good ideas. Being stuck there gave me a little bit of hope; since Arkady seemed dead set on waiting until we reached the top of the building before killing either of us, not being able to progress any further might have meant we’d get to live.
Of course, the building had other plans. While we waited for Arkady to finish pacing as he tried to come up with a plan, the staircase we were on started shaking. Further down, a tree was growing up the stairwell, smashing apart everything in its way. Even with my misgivings toward the mist covered room across the door, it quickly started looking like a better alternative to waiting and being killed by the tree. I shouted a warning, and then jumped through the door. Arkady threw Sky across, and then jumped right before the stairs fell away.
Once all three of us were inside, the fog grew much thicker. I quickly lost sight of Arkady and Sky, and soon couldn’t see anything around me at all. I called for them, but there was no reply.
I walked forward, calling Sky as I went, and occasionally stumbling over a desk. A flash of lightning illuminated a silhouette of someone standing in front of me. It was too tall to be Sky, so I assumed it was Arkady. As I was starting to say his name, the person tackled me. When we hit the ground, they grabbed my throat and started to squeeze until I couldn’t breathe. Another flash of lightning, and I saw that the person strangling me was Lepidus.
His eyes were gone, and the empty sockets were covered in scratches. Small black branches were growing out of his check and the top of his head, where clumps of his hair were falling off with every movement he made. He opened his mouth, wider than his jaw should have spread, and blood poured out onto my face. A terrible shrieking noise came from it, that shook my whole body. I wanted to call to him, but I couldn’t draw the breath to speak. I didn’t understand what was going on. What had happened to Lepidus? What was all this?
Another flash of lightning, and I saw Sky standing by us. She was staring, jaw hanging open in shock. I couldn’t scream, so I tried gesturing for her to run. I assumed it worked, because she turned and disappeared back into the fog. Even if I didn’t understand what was happening, I thought I could keep her away from it.
My assumption ended up being wrong, as seconds later, Sky came running back, holding an office chair over her head and screaming. She hit Lepidus with the chair until he was knocked off me. She kept hitting him, cracking his skull and spilling blood across the floor. She didn’t stop until his head had been completely crushed. After she was finished, she set the chair down and threw up. I wanted to help her, but just laid there, still in shock at the scene.
More lightning. Several figured were around us, moving closer. As they approached, I recognized their faces. The Jackson Brothers, Dumas, Ahriman, even some people I hadn’t seen since before I became a proxy. My parents, my old boyfriend, friends from high school…. They all had the same appearance as Lepidus, with their eyes gone and small branches growing out from under their skin. All of them opened their mouths and shrieked in unison. That sound finally got me acting, and I stood up and pulled Sky behind me. Not that it would have helped, since we were surrounded, but it was the best I could do. They continued to advance towards us, blood pouring from their mouths as they shrieked.
Then out of the fog, Arkady appeared. He ran between the figures, cutting through them with a knife in each hand, laughing like a kid. He was brutal in his methods, tearing off my mother’s head and then kicking it away, or throwing Gabriel Jackson to the ground and crushing his head under his foot. When Dumas was the only one left, Arkady threw aside the knives and started hitting Dumas until he stopped moving.
A: “Well that was fun! We need more death traps like this.” *He noticed Lepidus’s body, and Sky holding the bloody chair.* “Oh, hey, you got one too, kid? Nice job.” *He ruffled Sky’s hair.*
D: “How can you always act so happy after killing people?”
A: “People?” *He picked up Dumas.* “These things look like people to you?”
D: “Of course they do! What else would they be?”
A: “Freaky blood filled tree things. Yeah, they’re humanoid shaped, but you’d have to be crazy to mistake them for actual people.”
D: “That’s Dumas you’re holding!”
S: “No, that’s not Dumas… That’s my uncle….”
*Now I was confused. It definitely was Dumas. It looked exactly like him. Arkady’s eyes narrowed in suspicion and he dropped the body.*
A: “Well, isn’t that interesting. Perhaps it would be best for us to keep moving.”
I looked at the bodies again. They still looked like people I know, but I was starting to question what my eyes saw. I thought I recognized them, but if Sky was seeing completely different people, and Arkady didn’t see them as people at all, what were they really? Were any of us right?
Arkady didn’t have the patience for confusion. And without any other options, we followed. More lighting showed other figures in the fog, but they didn’t attack us. It was more like walking through a torture gallery, with the figures all displayed in poses of excruciating agony. Their screams sounded human now, and I could hear them calling out for someone to save them. I tried to cover my ears, but it did nothing to silence the sound. It was Hell. It really felt like I was walking through Hell.
Arkady suddenly came to a stop. Someone was standing in front of him. The lightning made their face clear, but I didn’t believe what I saw at first. Not until the second flash confirmed it. The person standing in our way looked like me.
A: “Well. Isn’t that interesting. Hey, you two. Out of curiosity, what’s this one look like to you?”
D: “It looks like me….”
S: “It’s… me….”
A: “Thought so. Well, time to kill it.”
He drew another knife, but before he could use it, the person started screaming in pain. Then their whole body melted. It was just… absolutely horrifying. Watching someone who looked exactly like me dying like that. I almost was sick, and I heard Sky sobbing behind me. Arkady remained unfazed. When all that remained of the body was part of its face, he stomped down on it, crushing it.
A: “And hey, look at that, the door was right behind it. Let’s get out of here.”
The moment his hand touched the door handle, all the fog was blown away. And suddenly I could clearly see the Boss’s head looming over me.
He was standing behind us, but his torso stretched so much that when he bent over, I was looking right at him. Before anyone could even scream, his tentacles grabbed Sky and pulled her toward him. Arkady didn’t hesitate before charging. He didn’t make it far before the Boss lashed out with more tentacles. Arkady dodged most of them, until one went through his left shoulder. The Boss threw Arkady into a wall, and moved so that he stood between Arkady and Sky.
For a few moments, I thought this was our chance for escape. The Boss would get what he wanted, kill Arkady, and take us out of here. We’d go back to the way things used to be. I didn’t have to do anything but keep standing where I was, and let things happen. The nightmare would finally be over.
Then I looked at Sky’s face, and knew there was no way I could sit and wait. She looked more scared than I’d ever seen before. She didn’t seem able to speak, but kept silently mouthing “Help” at me. Could I really accept going back to how things were? Back when I spent all day documenting people’s deaths and Sky spent every night being tortured by the thing that employed me?
Arkady was quickly back on his feet, charging at the Boss while making a noise that was like a combination of laughter and screaming in pain. He’d dropped the knife, and seemed intent on just punching the Boss. He was swatted aside by another tentacle before he came close. But he kept the Boss’s attention for a while. And without really thinking it through, I lunged forward and grabbed Sky’s arm, trying to pull her away. The Boss’s upper body twisted around, turning from Arkady toward me.
It felt like my brain had been dropped into a blender. Incredible pain shot through my head, and random memories and images flashed before my eyes. But I kept pulling at Sky. I had to get her away from him. Even as everything before my eyes dissolved into a chaos of pain and memories, I kept trying to pull her away.
Arkady’s voice cut through the insanity like a foghorn.
A: “Hey Slendy, didn’t I fucking tell you that need to deal with me first before you could get either of them?!”
Arkady was charging again, holding the same chair that Sky had used earlier. Before the Boss could turn to confront him, Arkady threw the chair. Just before it hit the Boss’s head, I blacked out. When I woke up, the Boss had vanished. Sky, Arkady, and I were lying on the floor. There was blood coming from our noses, although most of it was already drying up. I wanted a moment to collect myself, but Arkady was immediately up and herding us to the door. I didn’t have the will to debate the instructions. I just wanted off that floor.
We’re resting on the stairs again. Sky’s found a corner and is crying to herself there; whenever one of us goes near her she shouts at us until we leave. Arkady’s bandaged up the hole in his left shoulder, but I’ve noticed he doesn’t seem able to move that arm much anymore. He says he’s fine, but I think he’s more seriously injured than he wants to admit (No, I’m fucking fine. I’m just typing this comment with only my right hand because I fucking feel like it. –Arkady.)
I don’t want to deal with this anymore. All I want is to go back home and lie in bed for days. But now I can’t do that. Before this, I could always claim that the only reason I’m going along here is because Arkady’s forcing us. But I stood against the Boss. I tried to stop him when he came to take Sky back. Even if I get out of here, I can’t go back to being a proxy. I’ll have to be another Runner, waiting for the day when he comes and kills me. No matter what happens here, I’m going to die.
And that’s really it, isn’t it. I’ve been pretending that we’d have a chance to escape this place. But now I know we really don’t. We’re all going to die here. The only thing we can hope for is that the Boss will be merciful enough to do it quickly.