Into the cave, again (Talia, p. 98)

The air was still, crisp and cold.  The snow had stopped falling hours ago leaving the world blanketed in silence.  The only sounds were the crunch crunch of her boots.  Her path, though unseen, was familiar to her.  She had walked this many times before, sometimes further than others, never stopping at the mouth of the cave.  Until tonight.  She could sense it, waiting for her as always, but tonight it felt different.  It was not alone.  Another waited as well.  There had never been another, and that is what caused her to stop.

The darkness of the cave had no end, its depth unfathomable.  She stepped inside, away from the stillness of the snow and into the silence of death.  The air was frigid, making the snow seem warm by comparison.  She felt the warmth being leeched from her body, and with it life.  A deep breath, a resolve of will, and she stopped the current.  The cave would not claim her, she would not allow it. Calmed, she stepped forward, further into the darkness. Leaving the moonlight above behind.

She walked slowly, further down, following the narrowing passages she had walked only once before.  They turned and twisted, leading finally to a great hall.  The yellow light of torches still burned on the walls, but they offered no heat.  Ahead, in the center of the hall was the dais, the throne tall and ominous.  He waited, as he did once so long ago.  She stepped forward, crossed the hall and stopped at the foot of the dais, looking up.  The figure had changed.  The dry, brown wrappings were still visible, but now they were covered with tattered blue and yellow silks.  His eyes glowed blue as well.  The flesh of his face was stiff, but she could sense the smugness of a smile.

“You have returned to me.”  His voice came out as a dry rasp.  “Come, sit with me.”  The bones of his arm creaked beneath the dry wrappings that bound it as he extended it towards her.  The silk sleeve shifted and dangled from his arm at the elbow.

She took a deep breath and attempted to keep her voice level as she spoke.  “Why are you dressed as such?  You have no claim to those colors.”

“No claim?”  His laugh was a rustling and he let his arm fall to his side.  “Everything that is buried belongs to me.  Everything that turns to dust becomes a part of me.”  He lifted his other arm, out to his side, motioning behind the dais.  “Everything that falls… falls here.”

She followed his hand with her eyes as another figure stepped from behind the throne.  The woman, moved slowly, uncertain.  She was dressed in white, in elegant silks, but they were torn.  Blood had stained the white, trailing from neck and shoulder, smeared across breast and waist.  Her arm dangled, motionless, rivulets of blood ran down her fingers, dripping as she walked.  The woman’s eyes were vacant, unfocused.

“She does not belong here!”  She balled her hands into fists at her side.  “She is not yours!”

“Everyone belongs here!”  He slammed his hand down into the arm of the throne.  “Everyone belongs to me, eventually.”  He rose. Blue and yellow silks tore away, falling to the floor.  He stood at the top of the steps looking down at her.  “And those that I have chosen…”  he lifted a wrapped, bony hand, extending a finger towards her.  “…I will claim when I wish.  You have no choice.”

She dropped to her knees, on the first step of the dais.  “Spare her!  Give her time.  I beg of you.”

“You?  How touching.”  He crossed the steps to stand just above her.  “ But, you have nothing to offer me.  You are already marked.  You are already mine.”

She met that glowing blue gaze, her mouth moved soundlessly.  It was true.  In death, she had nothing to offer.  Nothing he could not already take away from her.  She looked away and swallowed, eyes growing moist.  She shook her head, glanced up at the forlorn figure of white and red, and spoke in a hesitant voice.  “Then command me.  Spare her and I will act freely as your agent above.”  Her shoulders slumped in defeat and she waited in silence.

A bony hand rested on her head, gently, and the calm, raspy voice spoke again.  “So be it. I have sent someone to you already.  You know who I speak of.  Find him again.  Find him, and follow.”

She closed her eyes and felt the darkness closing around her.  Not a cold, cruel darkness, but the inviting darkness of shadows.  She welcomed it.

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