His blood was exchanged for power. Each drop echoed out along the thin veil that separated the material from the immaterial. Disturbing, breaking, engulfing him in what laid on the other side. Like falling into the waves of a stormy sea he was swept with, his mind dragged away from the safe and still shores of his body into the endless, raging motions that pushed forth the world. Instinctively he tried to surface, to return to the physical from which he was not supposed to exist separate.
He sensed a distant voice, like an echo reverberating along the frail lifeline his soul held to his body. It spoke in no language, instead he understood the concepts their mind sent out in the world for him to hear.
Go with it… let it take you where you need to be…
Although cryptic, he stopped resisting and soon enough he found his mind drift along. Without a body he was unsure where the border between him and the world laid – if there even was a difference between his thoughts and all other motions.
But he found familiar ideas here too, that spread out like ripples on the surface of a pond; their path set. He knew the sights of his past, and saw where they would lead – but only of events already set in motion.
He saw the books he had chosen that same morning, and William desperately attempting to finish them in time.
The librarian whom he had discussed opening hours with, and his efforts studying on what he knew to be Sunday.
The man he had ran into this morning, and… a deep, disturbing anxiety. A dark figure that lurked amongst the shadows of his future.
You are, Ross Forrest? I read the name on your mind in a whim this morning… why?
Through the wild and precarious sways of the world he tried to reach out, get closer to this man and his disturbing shadow. But the further he reached, the more distant their presence was – unwilling to be found by him. Yet when he traced his faded lifeline back the image grew ever closer again, holding a familiar sheet of paper.
You will come to me… and you will bring…
With deep effort, and against his better judgements, he attempted to sense the elusive shade. He found anger. Deep, seething – endless. If it had once been a soul, it had long since been torn part, unfolded into a single, eternal dimension of hate.
No… there is something else…
A soft, pale white glimmer, like the last star at the very end of time. Lonely, but cathartic? Happy?
It was so distant, drowned out in the hatred, and part of him felt pity. He wanted to take it and protect such rare light before it was washed away in this dark, uncaring ocean of chaos.
A sudden shudder stirred awake the hatred. He felt a thousand sightless eyes glare at him, and a thousand more death wishes crawl over his mind. He was merely a dot before the creature that had found an endless existence in this plane.
It was… cold?
He didn't remember what it felt like, or if he had ever felt it, but it was the only word he could imagine fit the paralysing pain that overtook his thoughts. Like a hundred pins and needles had caught his still fluttering ideas and pierced them lengthwise. Desperate he struggled to be freed, but no matter where he reached all he found was hatred.
His mind drowned in icy incompassion, the sharp shards tearing his thoughts apart.
A harsh, demanding tug on the ever thinner thread that could lead him back reminded him of a way out. Without hesitation he followed it, wrenching himself out from the grasp of this thing even if it took parts of his mind with it. Even if he was barely able to keep himself together; his being unravelling at the ends like ripped cloth. The harder he struggled, the more he came undone, but it was his only way out.
He could feel the thoughts at the edge of his mind fade, knowing he had once had them, but now unable to trace them back. A few recent memories went with, of what he had done that day, of what he had seen moments before. But for each one he left behind, the grip of this creature on his mind slipped.
Why am I even here?
Was I supposed to be?
With a sudden, disorienting shock he was overwhelmed by all the sensations in the room. The heat of the coals he instinctively pulled away from, only to be held still by a strong yet oddly soft grip. The pain in his arm. The smell of blood. Something soft pressed against his face. The blurry, unclear sight of the ceiling illuminated in red. The increasingly painful sensation of his chest moving up and down without taking a breath, choking on warm air.
«Breathe. It's fine, you’re back. Take deep breaths.» A hand against his chest tried to guide him along, and bit by bit his gasps turned into heavy pants.
“Where am I? What hap,-”
«Tell me what you saw.» Miss Rayne commanded as he came out of his panicked daze, having no time for his questions.
“A man, named Ross Forrest, there’s something… angry…” His eyes darted along the ceiling as he tried to recall the thing that had tried to tear him apart. “Something powerful…”
«A demon?» She asked, and even her voice carried a twinge of fear at the mention. Alden shook his head, but the motion upset the delicate balance of his already anemic body. The edges of his vision went dark, as all the blood drained out of his head and his conscious was left unsustained. He felt his limbs grow heavy; his breaths slowed and his sight drifted up.
Two rapid, impatient slaps against his cheek brought him back.
«Ey! We’re not done.»
He nodded, a smile playing along his lips as he only now realised how bizarre this whole situation really was, even though his mind hurt worse by the second.
“Not a demon… it was cold… dead? … And it had something… good?” His words were strung together from half-formed, airless thoughts with harsh and fast breaths in between trying to remedy that. He felt Miss Rayne wipe something soft under his nose, and it made him frown slightly as it finally dawned on him that he had bled from there too.
He tried to nod, but instead it was more like falling forward. Illuminated by the red coals, he saw large, dark stains on his white shirt, still slightly wet and glistening. His arm was bandaged up, and covered in lines of dried blood. He laughed, about the same time as that his stomach complained deeply.
Miss Rayne pulled him back up, increasingly annoyed.
His eyes drifted back to her again, no longer laughing but still smiling. He noticed she was warm, and somehow the thought crossed his mind that she was strong. So much stronger than this frail, blood-deprived form he had to make do with. I want that too...
«Aren’t you curious how it feels?» He said softly, his smile widening. «Even just a little bit?»
Miss Rayne groaned and pushed him sideways, down onto the floor, and he didn't have the strength to crawl back up.
«No. And I don't believe you’re supposed to ask nicely.»
It made him laugh again, and he didn't really know why – he didn't feel like it should be funny. His stomach growled like a wild animal, his head hurt, and she had just pushed him onto the floor. How dare you… you filthy witch…
His smile faltered, his eyes glancing up at the shapeless, blurred form that now towered over him. I should just kill you… do the world a favour…
A knee was planted in his stomach, and immediately his thoughts were interrupted as he let out a weak, pained sound. The weight kept him down, and he felt her hand pluck something from his chest pocket.
«I hope you got what you wanted out of this. At least you didn't throw up like last time.»
With one hand she pinched his nose shut, as she upturned the vial of liquid in his mouth. Although he struggled a little, he had neither the energy nor the will to fight much more. He swallowed the bitter liquid.
«What is it?» She asked as she smelled the empty vial, her hand on his neck to keep him from moving up.
His slight smile returned as he knew that the pain in his stomach, and arm, and head would soon be gone.
«What does it do?»
«It takes the pain away.»
«How long does it take?»
«Half an hour… at most...» He smiled wider, baring his teeth at her as if he wasn't sure he wanted to threaten her and appear less weak than she undoubtedly knew he was. She sighed, as if amused by his attempt. Her weight left him, but it didn't make him feel any less heavy. For a little while he tried to get up, but he simply couldn't.
He heard a slight chuckle, and the taps of bare feet on stone. Taking advantage of his current state, he felt her toes on his cheek, both deeply insulting him and forcing him to look at her.
«I would have killed you, had you not been so brave. You know that, right?»
«So why are you so stupid, letting yourself be this weak in front of me?»
The words made him chuckle, even while he was down on the floor and half gone.
"If you wanted to kill me… you wouldn't stand there threatening it… like some halfwit…”
Miss Rayne scoffed, using her foot to push his head the other way. He smiled, knowing it was as close to winning as he would ever come.
«Don’t give me a reason to.»
“Then stop bothering me… I'm going to bed…”
His bed in this instance, was little more than rolling himself over on his side with great effort.
It took a while for his aches to settle into the soothing, dim sensation the morphine brought with. The shadows of the fire Miss Rayne had lit in the meantime danced on the wall in front of him, getting longer and deeper. It took forms no fire should, of elongated faces leering at him, of dark, demonic figures that came ever closer.
Wide eyed he stared at the wall, reminded of a place he wasn't in, and events that weren't happening. Softly he mumbled under his breath; hasty prayers he knew by heart.
«Ey! Don't you dare with that nonsense, not in my own room.» Miss Rayne protested loudly, but he didn't respond. If anything his voice grew quicker, his eyes held shut tight against memories and hallucinations alike. Harshly she tried to shake him out of it with her foot, causing him to let out a soft, high pitched whine in fear.
«You said you were going to bed...» She complained, but then a second later sighed, knowing well enough the effects of mind altering substances when she was confronted with them – they all looked the same after a while. «Of course you're not even here… alright, come on. You're one worthless Occultist, getting help from a witch.»
With two hands, she grabbed Alden's arms and lifted him up onto her own bed, which was little more than a frame and a thin mattress. It was surprisingly easy – too easy even. Both to confirm her suspicions, and to make sure he wouldn't get his blood all over her bed, she took off his waistcoat and shirt. She was met with the rather poor sight of deeply pale skin, blemished by large scars of claws, bites, and whatever else he had encountered. He was so thin she was able to count every rib and bone while he rapidly heaved his prayers.
«I figured you would have given in by now… guess I was wrong.»
She shook her head and threw the thin covers over him, defiant in the hope it would offset such a kind gesture. With a sigh she sat down against the wall besides the small fireplace, throwing an angry glance over to her bed; as if in disbelief she'd ever do such a favour in the first place.