This life is nothing more than the process of rationing a very small quantity of hope. In this over-lighted, unspectacular and unchanging hothouse, there are only a few patches of clean glass amid the thick grime spread across its dirty windows, where we might occasionally spy the wilder world beyond our rote, geometric lives. Those moments of vision are few but inspiring, lending to us our notions of immortality and granting our dreams and expectations for ourselves a ridiculous overreach, and within those exaggerations we gather hope—against death, against vanishing, against oblivion. But in the end, we are exhausted, and we become dust.
Darkness, on the other and greater hand, is that recalcitrant part of us that cannot sink to its least desirable depths—where the world becomes vacant and complacent, merely a blithering stupidity of artificial imperatives, where wonder perishes of starvation and all power attains only the nullity of its purpose. Darkness is the Devil’s clay—the malleable power of the self, unrestrained; and once possessed, it can grant a forbidden arrogance to its wielder, allowing them to do whatever they choose, rather than whatever they are told. Darkness is to accept that we are dangerous, and intended to be so. All of this was the Great Darkness. And my belief as to why we forgot its savage raptures is that we were too much for ourselves: our raw, unseasoned truth was too terrifying. But how glorious we must have been, to have frightened ourselves, so.
Now I am overflowing with hope, for the first time. I saw, if only faintly, a very small but astonishing scene from the Great Darkness. The stolen dream was so much more than just a play of memory and shadow, with the least of its importance falling upon the specifics of the lovely Miss Molly Patience (at least not her, per se). Here was something precious and singular, like the fleeing golden hind caught somewhere within the brambles of my mind, only to be lost again to the cycles of remembering and forgetting. This was a decaying fragment of utter and incarnate madness: a clear memory of the Great Darkness. I saw what the world had become (and perhaps, could become again). I witnessed the defeat of the Queen of the Dead; I saw her corpulent dullness scattered like ashes across a world of resurrected dreams. Was this the purpose of the dream— to advertise a possible reward for a game well played; or was it, in truth, merely a parenthetical sideshow to the next name on my murder-list?
However parenthetical or primary, the dream had appreciably lightened my desire to eliminate the subterranean cannibal, for she was pure monster—forged from a daemon darkness beyond recollection (mostly), mistress of dark hordes, and hunter of fiends. But, alternatively, I was ecstatic to meet her monstrous legions and to stand before her bleeding smile, which could easily pass for one of my sisters’ lethal grins. I would have liked to believe that I had some choice in the matter, but in truth I had none; I was in love with the drift of inscrutable purpose and the power of endless possibility, and as an artist, to see your work actually affect the world…
The train slowed as we approached a line of mountains that shambled in from the east, sweating clouds and hosting sky-blackening numbers of crows. The next place the train stopped was listed as “Orphan,” and when the train finally stood still and opened its doors, I was excited to see what species of creature might be admitted from the strangely named city. However, when the train lingered at the boarding platform, and a tinny voice announced from invisible places that there would be a two hour wait before the train began again, I decided to tour the city, and perhaps acquire something to quench my thirst.
There were very few passengers departing from the other cars. Exactly twenty people, all told, and there wasn’t a stitch of the remarkable about a single one of them. So I took to the shadows of the path we all followed into town, and didn’t give the small crowd a second thought. The town itself was trivial and quiet, but the echoes of horrors past still sounded within its darker spaces, always reminding those who were sensitive to such reverberations that past is prologue. But beyond its connection to plague and death, it was a quaint, if only slightly haunted, little hamlet.
There were sights in and around the city if you knew where and how to look for them. For instance, after I followed the silence of old death I located a wonderful and well-hidden mass grave; It had apparently been feeding a collection of the most monstrous trees I’d seen since I traveled the back roads around Autumn City, near the infamous September Woods. I even managed to find a small smokehouse that had been repurposed as an art gallery, hidden fairly deep in the forest. The lingering darkness had apparently found a willing supplicant somewhere in the city, and must have called upon them to recall their darkest visions in pig’s blood, and to wipe those images, with some skill, across the dried skins of deer and bears. The gallery was fairly fresh, as some of the paintings had dried only very recently. There was one particular piece that caught my eye; a tall and gaunt man had been painted against a background composed of many hundreds of knotted serpents, and he wore a dainty crown fashioned from tiny snake bones. The words written below the slim figure read: The Prince of Snakes. But despite the one mature work, the rest of the pieces were still those of a fledgling, as the animal materials still satisfied an embryonic art that would soon call for more blood and skin, and of a type that would require a gallery less easily stumbled upon by persons wandering through the forest.
After I located and drank from a cold stream, I made my way back to the train. When I reached the station I detected that the small crowd that had returned from the city had grown by one member. The new addition seemed out of place, as he was trying too hard to blend into the gathering. When I entered the passenger car, I took a seat that was closer to the man who wished to move unnoticed in his travels. I watched him for some time before I realized he was looking back at me through the reflective chrome that wrapped around the top of one of the handrails.
“I have no head for this sort of game, you know? I’m far too impatient. It’s the chaos I’m chasing. The faster and faster I go…I just love it. You?” said the man without turning to face me. I said nothing. My sister was already by my side, and I couldn’t deny how badly I wanted to express the artistic inspiration gained via my sleeping glimpse into The Great Darkness.
The man slowly, as if knowing that any untoward movements would lead to his death, lifted and displayed a folded piece of water-stained paper from his front pocket. He unfolded and spread the paper across the top a small book he had on his lap. It was a murder-list, replete with crossed-off names and numbered entries. “See? I don’t think you’re on there, or at least, you’re not next on the list. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me some time to finally know the true face of my next playmate, and you certainly don’t look anything like the “Breathtaker.” And from the fact that I’m still talking, I’m going to assume I’m not on your list, either. Are we allowed to kill out of order? If so, I suppose we might have a problem.”
“You would have the problem, I’m afraid,” I said, while I effortlessly slid my sister through the fabrics and plastics of seat between us, and gently touched his back with her deadly smile. “But I’ve had no inclination to pursue the names out of order, so far. However, there does seem to be an unspoken formality to all of this, so, for now, I’m willing to consider the order of the names as something of an unspoken rule.”
“It’s the order and formality that has me wanting to quit this awful game. As an artist, I’m sure you must feel the same, yes?” The man knew who I was, and that interested me.
“Why do you think you know who I am?”
“You’re gigantic, with what could easily be an enormous axe wrapped-up and laid across your back. To be honest, I’m not sure how you’ve lasted so long with such an appearance, and traveling unhidden on a public vehicle, no less,” said the man who still hadn’t turned his face to me.
“Do I have you at a disadvantage, my friend? Have you no idea with whom you’re speaking? I wonder how many faceless names you’ve already scratched off that list of yours, all the while having no idea as to the legacies you’ve destroyed. I mean, that is what we’re doing, isn’t it? We’re being made to thin our own ranks. Or have you a grander explanation to share?” The man was interesting enough to warrant a response.
“I’ve known of a few of the persons on my list. The others weren’t permitted a proper introduction, I’m afraid. As to the nature of the game, I’ll keep my opinions to myself. And while I’ll admit to a temporary loss as to our little naming game, your interest in knowing names and legacies tells me more about you then the fact you won’t show me your face, or whoever’s face that is. Even the muted sunlight falling from behind me might reveal the unmoving portions of dead skin that make-up that wonderful mask you’ve constructed. Although, as soon as you’re on the hunt again, you will turn it around, so that you have a face on both sides of your head. Am I correct…Janus?”
“HAHAHA, that’s the reason you’ve proven so elusive! You’re a clever fox, indeed! Yes, you’ve guessed correctly!” Still laughing, the dead-masked killer finally turned to face me, and I was staring into eyes as lethal as the dagger he used to swiftly turn aside my sister’s gleaming smile.