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A beautiful jagged, silver streak cracked the sky in two. Jane frowned, encasing her arms around herself. While her woolen bloom protected her from the cold, it did not protect her from her worries. She watched as the heavens washed down a thick sheet of water; the trees moaned and writhed. Dust was kicked up, plastic bags and weed were uprooted and swept away. Meanwhile, in the background, the TV’s BBC newsreader was listing off methodically the state that would bear the full-burnt of the hurricane as it approached the Gulf of Mexico.
“The hurricane Layla has become a category 4 monster…” he droned on, a map of the southern US appearing behind him. A white, swirling mass of clouds could be seen above the ocean basin. It was spearheading towards Louisiana. “While it will eventually weaken once it goes inland, Louisiana’s local authorities strongly recommend evacuation.”
Jane slouched herself on the sofa, steepling her fingers beneath her chin. A text message alerted her smartphone with a chirp.
—”Mom, I’m gonna be a bit late today…”
It had not even been an hour since Jered had left for school, so what could possibly have happened? She chewed her nails, waiting for a more detailed explanation… but his ‘online’ status had gone off. She would have not been this worried if not for the weather. A lot could happen if someone was not careful, especially while driving. Jane didn’t even know who was taking her son to school; was that person even reliable? Should she have met that friend beforehand?
She worked out a quick reply, —It’s okay, take care
Her text popped up on the chat, but her fingers still hovered above the keyboard. She hated herself for being this overprotective. It was not her fault, she told this to herself repeatedly, whether before sleeping or upon waking up. After John died in a fog of mystery, she felt like the world was after her family. When everything was perfect, untainted, a snake slithered into her Eden and turned everything upside down.
—”You forgot to take an umbrella with you”
—”Also, if you want I can come to pick you up when school’s over”
—”Why don’t you let me talk to your friend? I just want to make sure it’s all okay”
—”Please let me know”
She kept the messages coming, but as she had expected, none of them were seen. Jane tossed her phone aside, and with a huff, she blew out of the way a strand of hair that fell over her nose.
Jered ignored the constant vibrations in his pocket. Someone was following him; he could smell and hear it. Whoever it was, it never strayed closer than it needed to. Its steps were a background remainder that it was there, behind him, content to patiently wait. He ignored that too. He had to secure himself a demonic entity, not a random resentful spirit. Then the footsteps faded. Jered turned around one more time—guarded and ready to squeeze out every drop of Mana to protect himself—yet his Magical Detector didn’t buzz again. Was it gone? His chest relaxed, and the breath he was holding in was loosened out.
He walked up the stairs in front of him.
The second floor was the same as the first one, if not worse for wear. Debris, paint chips, and various abandoned tools surrounded him. The drawings were certainly disturbing to the weak-hearted eye; an invitation for any intrepid visitor to join the world of madness that once caked those same halls. At some point, he even stumbled across an operating room. The cyan tiles were bleached, with thin scorched-like strips of mold running down the corner of its walls. The surgical table was torn apart, while the operating light was rusted all over, barely hanging on by its extension arms.
Jered cast a cursory glance at the surgical instruments and, after not finding anything particularly noteworthy, moved on.
It was then that the paranormal phenomena concentrated, joined hands, and paved his way towards the end of the hallway in an ensemble of noises. It started with a banging on the walls, sometimes in a flurry of mindless anger, sometimes soft. Then came the frantic scratches behind the locked doors, and the pitter-patter of bare feet running around. The psychiatric ward was more alive than he thought. And it came all to a complete silence way too suddenly. It was as if the building itself were watching him, evaluating, curious to know how well-prepared he was.
His nose started twitching, and as if a hand was beckoning him forth, he stopped in front of the last room. It was a dead-end unless he decided to go back. There were no windows, only stripped walls isolated the room. His Mana Orbs swathed the door with gentle, pulsing waves of light. And on its wooden frame, faded black words were written by a despondent hand. ‘IT WAS MORE FUN IN HELL’. Jered prepared himself, mentally, physically, metaphorically. The outpouring of mana was the strongest inside the room. Every nerve on his body was on high-alert, his heart fueling that addicting adrenaline; a delicious drug for his veins. It made everything brighter, louder.
And with that same feeling stuck in his throat, he let the tension guide him.
The door’s hinges squeaked out, and before he even stepped inside, Jered knew that someone was there. A chillness settled over his body, but he braved on. The gap widened, the darkness retreating. He slowly dragged himself through the threshold. So far so good. What caught him off-guard, however, was that—even though he was not running out of mana—his Mana Orbs started flickering in and out, like a bulb reaching the end of its lifespan.
With a resounding thump, the door slammed shut by itself, trapping him inside.
So far not so good, after all.
A silhouette was in front of him, different from the mischievous entities following him around. Sitting on a broken-down bed frame—swallowed by darkness itself—she had her back turned to him. At first, what looked like a normal, stained white tunic, was in fact a straitjacket. She was rocking back and forth, lulling herself into some sort of false security. Not once did she turn around. And not once did Jered ever think of approaching her. His hand clutched protectively the pearl Rainey gave him; it was his only lifeline at the moment. ‘Dahmaska’s Mana Theory’ was the only fountain of magic knowledge he could fall back on, yet it never taught him anything about ghosts, or how to deal with them.
Rainey had said so herself. Jered was still lacking.
Then what in the nine hells was he supposed to do? Negotiate?
He squinted his eyes, anchoring the figure within his sight. His Mana Orbs were on the edge of being snuffed out. The light waned dangerously low, and Jered found himself in a mental deadlock. He knew he had to get closer, but the safety of standing still eroded his mind. She slowly, almost imperceptibly, cambered her head to the side. Her mane of ebony-black hair would have been barely visible if not for her white, restraining garment.
Jered squelched back the stress building up inside of him. A sickening, atrocious whiff of putrid meat sneaked into his nose. It permeated, grew, and latched onto his face with each breath he took. He pushed his mana harder, powering his Mana Orbs in a last-ditch struggle against the interference. A flash of light returned for a brief instant before it died down. Jered bit his lip, and in an unconscious act—a whim, if you want—he drew out the photograph he had pocketed downstairs.
“This is you, right?” he smoothed out his voice, “This is you.” he tapped the middle of the picture with his finger, steely confidence backing up his claim. He didn’t know if he were spitting b******* or if they were the same person. It was a shot in the darkness. “I’m sorry about before… I didn’t mean to make so much noise, sometimes I get a little mad,” he said slowly, deliberately, “I’m not here to—”
She was right in front of him. His Mana Orbs decided that it was the perfect moment to blink out. Jered back-paddled, until a wall stopped his retreat. He tried to kick-start his Mana Orbs into working again, yet a curtain of charcoal robbed him of his vision, offering its throne to the queen that had been skulking in its embrace for more than he had lived. Jered quietly slipped his smartphone out and turned the flashlight on. It was a momentary reprieve for it wasn’t any better than his orbs.
“This is you, you’re the one in the photograph, right?”
The hand holding the pearl tightened.
“Are these your relativ—no, parents. Right? Where are they?”
Icy fingers grabbed his picture-holding wrist, squeezing with its biting cold yet leaving burn streaks on his skin.
“Did they die?” Jered was not deterred. His words flowed slower, more articulately, “Were they with you?” the vice-like grip on his wrist pressed harder, “Did they leave? They must have, right? They left you here in this dreary place, all alone, to rot away. They probably didn’t need you… you were just a little parasite, an unwanted tumor to their perfect life, weren’t you?” his Mana Sensitivity was being overloaded from the reeking, miasma of anger bathing him. He soldiered on. “Come on, show yourself to me.”
With a violent shove, Jered’s head was forced to high-five the wall behind him. Wizened, rough, and slender fingers curled around his throat, cutting off his air supply. A strangled gasp left him, and the throbbing pain wood-chucking his skull became a secondary problem; the first one was currently staring at him. The flashlight of his smartphone, which had clattered against the floor, winked a few times before it successfully flashed to life.
Black eyes—scleras, irises, pupils—glared at him. Her eye-sockets were bony, creased, as was her ash-grey face. Not even a semblance of her former beauty left its legacy on that hideous, maggot nest canvas. Her lips were bluish, and chapped from frostbite. There was nothing but decay, rotten filth, and resentment on her expression. She leaned her head ever-so-slightly closer, a predatory grin unveiling blackened gums with no teeth.
A corpse would look better than her.
“You’re angry… and I get that. I really… do.” Jered struggled to speak, but at least he maintained eye-contact. “But, as mawkish as it sounds… I can help you. When you slip off God’s hands you fall straight into Lucifer’s ones, and you know what they say. When in hell, only the devil can help you out.” breathing became a little easier, “What do you want? Revenge… closure perhaps? A grave for your parents? And tell me, what can you do by yourself? You’re nothing but a sad, crazy little mass of ectoplasm who was forgott—”
“I… was… not… crazy…”
The hold on his neck tightened in response. And her whisper came with the stink of death, raspier than a smoker, and squeezed out with years of solitude.
“—But you were forgotten. They left you here in this s***-hole, didn’t they? Aaand… now you have a simple solution before you. Take a moment to untangle that anger-filled yarn that is your head, and maybe you’ll understand the opportunity I’m laying down at your feet.”
Honestly, he didn’t even know the full backstory of what transpired between them. He was lucky to hit the nail on the first shot. She started gnashing her gums together; the slimy, fleshy sound was nauseating to his ears. The they he was referring to could have been her parents, relatives, tutors, or anyone that used to hold a huge sentimental value to her. It didn’t matter. It was all about capitalizing on her anger.
“Killing me is not going to make you feel any better or satisfied, but allowing me to help you kill them just might. This is not only about revenge, this is much more. So much more than me, you, or anyone else. Trust your fate to someone who can handle it, you have nothing else to lose, after all. Come on now… she is waiting for us outside,” Jered wrestled to get his hand up, where a shiny, misty pearl was nestled between his fingers. With his other hand instead, he weathered through his revulsion and cupped her chin, his thumb nuzzling her wrinkled, cracked cheekbone. And with a dazzling, sweet smile, he said, “Also, don’t you want to be beautiful again?”
Synopsis: The online game <