I almost feel like I should take back all those things I said about the building trying to kill us as we climbed up it. Compared to what we’ve been going through on the way down, those were just some playful jabs.
Every branch and root we pass lashes out at us, and the water around us has grown ice cold. There have been places where the ground collapses away into a bottomless void. In some floors the wind grew so strong it would shatter the windows and threaten to pull us outside. Every room is filled with illusions that try to torment us. We can’t even stop to rest, because whenever we stay in one place for too long, Slender Man appears. Whenever I suddenly feel a splitting pain in my head, I know it’s time for us to run before his tentacles reach us.
During one of those brief breaks, Sky asked Arkady the question I had been wondering about for a while.
S: “Why did you decide to help us?”
A: *He shrugged.* “It amused me to do so. You’ll find it much easier to keep up with me one you accept that most of my decision making process boils down to choosing whatever is most entertaining for me at a given moment.”
S: “But what about your plan to lure out Slender Man by killing me?”
A: “Boring. Not interested anymore. Not when I can foil his plans to an even greater extent just by helping you stay away from him.”
*At this point, I entered the conversation.*
D: “I can’t say I’m comfortable being with someone who’s made it so clear he’s only helping us because it’s fun. Especially given how easily it would probably be for you to go back to thinking murdering us would be just as entertaining for yourself.”
A: “Aw, you’re not comfortable? My heart weeps for you. Besides, I doubt I’ll find any reason to kill the two of you now.”
D: “Somehow I have difficulty believing that.”
A: “Nah, you just gotta learn to trust more. I wasn’t lying when I said the two of you have become significantly more interesting as of late. You actually appear to have grown something of a spine. And Sky’s begun a wonderful phase of teenage rebellion.
*Sky perked up.*
S: “You used my name.”
A: “… Of course I did. That’s what you’re called.”
S: “You used to just call me ‘the kid’ or ‘the girl.’ You almost never used my name before.”
A: *Arkady stared at her for a few moments.* “Huh. Fancy that. Well, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are beginning a brand new adventure, filled to the brim with bloodshed! Hopefully other people’s bloodshed, although I accept the exciting possibility of some of our own bloodshed being thrown in there as well!”
*Sky laughed, but I couldn’t find it too funny.*
D: “I still don’t trust you. But you’re right. I don’t have a choice. So I’ll go along. But I’m keeping my eye on you.”
A: *He gave a mocking bow.* “Fair enough! I promise that should I ever decide to betray you, I will make sure to provide you plenty of forewarning. Now Sky, lead us onward!”
*Sky jumped in surprise at the order.*
S: “Lead? B-but I don’t….”
A: “You are the best qualified for noticing whatever traps await us, and I have full confidence in your abilities to guide us to safety. Just make sure to warn me if you see Slendy in the way. I get the first punch at him. Then you can kick him in the shins while I’ve got him distracted, or something.”
*Sky giggled again, and then started walking ahead. I hung back for a moment to talk to Arkady.*
D: “I think that was the closest you’ve ever come to giving genuine positive reinforcement.”
A: “And that’s probably the closest you’ve ever come to actually saying something nice to me. Maybe one day we’ll discover how to actually be cordial with one another.”
D: “Why are you letting her lead? Really?”
A: “Are the reasons I gave her not good enough? She really is the best person to be putting in front, given she’s the only one of us who seems to have any ability to predict what’s coming to kill us next.”
D: “Taking the sensible approach seems a little weird for you, to be honest.”
A: “Ha! Yes, probably. Maybe I’m just curious where her path is going to lead. Metaphorically, that is. She’s gone through quite a bit, and yet she’s managed to pull herself back out of despair into something productive. I want to see what kind of little warrior she turns into.”
D: “Coming from you, that type of obsession is really creepy.”
A: *He smirked.* “And look at you! Making hurtful remarks at me. There was a time you were so cowed by the fear of me that you wouldn’t dare risk incurring my murderous wrath.”
D: “Maybe I realized what a harmless braggart you are.”
A: “See! There it is again! I love it! That’s what this adventure has been missing. Snark. Used to be, I couldn’t have an amazing idea without Setoth telling me how stupid it was and belittling my glory with sarcasm. Ah, those were the days….”
Arkady began staring off, clearly no longer paying attention to me. I moved closer to Sky so I could keep an eye on her while I thought about what he had said. It’s true, we have changed. Maybe even for the better. When we were first trapped in this building, all I could think about was trying to get out so I could return to my old life. But now, I don’t think I’d be content going back to how things used to be. I feel like I can actually change my life now. Maybe things will get better now. But first, we have to make it out alive.