Once again, I've had quite a long break from adding to this story, so I'm really really sorry, don't hurt me. Some of my reason is due to the fact that when I usually start writing a story, I get bored halfway through and abandn it, but I don't feel like I can do it on , so I promise I will try and finish this story for you.
Chapter 12, I can just tell already, might be a major let-down for some of you, but I didn't want a cliché ending, so I tried adding a bit of a twist (which seemed to fail terribly). I will accept criticisms for my lack of creativity, and I'm sorry to anyone I let down with this one. R & R
The bridge seemed to stretch on forever; a winding rainbow road made of the wonders of light and the eeriness of mist, encased in a thick wall of fog made the journey very discomforting. The width of the bridge was only enough to allow a single file line, which forced another unbearable silence to descend upon the wanderers and let their minds flick through thoughts of the other side, the final level that awaited them at the end of this lengthy bridge. Jenny's eyes were fixed onto the golden hair swaying in front of her face, mainly because it was all she could see through the fog, but also because the more she saw of Sophie, the more she thought about her past self. It hadn't taken her long to deduce why she had such an interest in Sigyn, and wonder why she had so much sympathy for this girl. Jenny once felt that way about a boy, would have done anything for him, and would have stayed with him no matter what. The part that seemed to be irrevocably in love with Tom, before she had become drawn to the darkness, before she had learnt the malevolent nature of her world. Jenny was lost now; she felt her attractions to the shadows, the desire to become a part of them, and it even frightened her how comfortable she felt in this mist, shielded from the eyes of others. Everything she'd once fought to defend was so alien to her now.
"You'll never guess where we are guys!" Zach's unusually excited voice called from the front of the line, and as the mist cleared they could see it for themselves. The worlds were below them and above them again, worlds of fire and mist and of beautiful structures built from gold. As expected, the white tollbooth and coin receiver were in their usual place by the entrance of the bridge- leading into the shadow park.
"Oh, not this place again. It gave me the creeps the first time." Michael sighed. Jenny's heart began to pound, this is it, she thought to herself, this is where he is keeping Julian. The white and yellow striped turnstile was up, so they all poured through the gap and assembled around the entrance. They all turned back to see that the distance they had travelled was gone, and just like the last time they were here, all that was visible was the island across the bridge with its artificial lake, lighthouse and small rides scattered around it.
"We need to find the arcade." Jenny said with such certainty, that her friends looked shocked for a moment.
"How do you know that is where we need to be?" Audrey asked, eyeing Jenny with concern.
"Because, I dreamt about this moment. Julian is in the arcade, in the fortune telling box." Speaking the words unnerved her. Was she really about to face Julian in his imprisoned state? The group seemed to consider the information, probably wondering if she had finally lost the plot, but the calm of the scenario was interrupted by Mrs Thornton.
"It's real." She gasped uncomprehendingly, "Everything you told us about is real?"
"What's real?" Joey look panicked watching his mother lose control, mainly because she'd rarely lost control in Joey's lifetime, but the panic was spreading. The same expression appeared on Sophie's face, trying to work out what was happening while avoiding conversation with those responsible for Tom's death.
"This…Shadow Park. I don't understand…." Without warning, Jenny's mother broke down into uncontrollable tears, and Mr Thornton wrapped his arms around her without a moment's hesitation. It was heart-breaking to watch her family crumble into hysteria, but equally wonderful watching her father do something Jenny hadn't see him do in many years; embrace his wife. She couldn't help but be reminded how the trauma of the games brought people together….
"Jenny," Dee urged with sympathy in her eyes "We really need to get moving."
Jenny contemplated this for a second, looking over the small group of newcomers, then walked up to them and huddled them around her.
"Mother, father, Joey and Sophie," she acknowledged them each in turn, excusing the fact that Sophie couldn't look her in the eye, "I know this is scary, and I can't guarantee that it's going to be alright, because chances are things will get worse from here. But I need you to trust me when I say, that we will all protect you, no matter what." She waited for them to accept this before turning back to her friends and composing herself.
"Right, let's find the arcade then. Quickly."
They started to head off, Michael, Audrey and Jenny walking in the front, Sophie and Jenny's family in the middle, and Summer, Zach and Dee trailing behind like an organised school trip. None of the rides were on this time, which only made the task of walking through the lifeless park worse.
"We have all the clues, right? Because I'm pretty sure they'll come in handy for this level." Michael asked Jenny, taking the clues out from his pocket and going through them carefully.
"Yeah, I think we..." but they didn't. Jenny hadn't been able to grab the poem before the darkness had whisked them away. She stopped in her tracks and turned to look at Michael wide eyed, while the others slowed behind her.
"No, we don't. I left the last one in my kitchen." Michael tried to hide his worry; he gave the pile he had one last scan before looking back to her with a weak attempt at reassurance.
"I'm sure I can remember it from the pieces we have already, it will be hard but doable. If only I could remember the name of it." He scratched his head thoughtfully, which only made Jenny feel worse. This could all be for nothing, and without fulfilling the purpose of the game, they could be trapped here. Forever. And it was all her fault. She was about to start apologizing too, when her mum's voice interrupted.
"Dad?" Mrs Thornton gasped, and the group followed her gaze to the ghostly figure of Eric Evenson, dressed in the same clothing from Jenny's dreams, smiling back at his adult daughter from his place by the entrance of the Tunnel of Love and Despair. She wandered over to him slowly, cautiously, tears of joy and inner sadness welling up in her eyes, tears that had probably been pushed to the back of her mind for years. She was closely followed by Mr Thornton, as a sort of loving protection from the dangers of this place that he was yet to understand. Jenny really wanted to follow her too, she was aware this could be another trap, but her grandfather had helped her in her dream, he was a symbol of guidance and support to her, so she wearily let her mother approach him. The other members of the group were also on standby, waiting attentively while Mrs Thornton had her short moment with her dad and willingly took something that he was offering before he disappeared, then walked back to them with sore, red eyes.
"He wanted me to give you this." She said to Jenny meekly, handing Jenny a tattered piece of paper with another part to the bind rune on it.
"Thank you." She whispered to her mother. She turned to give the clue to Michael, then back to her mother to shield her in a big hug, which was appreciatively returned.
"Oh thank the gods! The name is on the other side!" Michael screeched with a little too much excitement after they had finished hugging, "Lásabrjótur! That's it!" he looked up to find that no one could share his glee, "It means lock breaker."
"We still don't have the last clue though." Audrey reminded him.
"I don't need it now, I have enough, and looking at this much of it, I'm pretty sure the left side is identical to the right side, like a mirrored design."
"Perfect." Dee came striding towards her friends from the back of the group, "Then what are we waiting for? I really want to get out of the open before a headless body attacks one of us again."
"I remember it being this way." Jenny said, leading her group to their final destination.
"Do you hear that?" Audrey asked. Of course they could; the low, threatening hum emanating from the arcade was totally unavoidable. It was not easy to identify either; it could be machine, man or monster, but was most definitely a deception, a way for Darien to scare the players into giving up. For some, it was working.
"I don't want to go in there!" Sophie sounded shocked at the mere thought of it, and started to back away from the building with small steps. Zach walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Do you want to get out of here?"
"Yes." She seemed horrified that he even had to ask.
"Then we have to go in there. It's your choice."
She searched his eyes for a while, contemplating whether she could trust him. It was only when Zach released her shoulders that she seemed to make a decision, and look to Jenny, without making eye contact.
"What is in there?" she mumbled. Jenny turned to inspect the outside of the menacing building before her, with the tall, red double doors that stood between her friends and the dangers awaiting them, before looking back to Sophie,
"Something unpleasant." she replied, knowing there was nothing she could say to make this any easier for such a fragile soul such as Sophie's.
Jenny turned back to the door and looked at the handle for a while. She knew once that door was open, there was no turning back, no running away from the purpose of this game. She wanted to go in to save Julian, every second she stood there was another moment of agonising torture for him, but what was lurking in that arcade room? What special traps had Darien set for his prey?
"Right." Jenny said to herself, taking slow steps towards the door, and closing her hands around the handles. Her friends and family were close around her, Dee had automatically positioned herself to Jenny's right ready to kick at whatever planned to jump out at them, and Audrey, Michael, Summer and Zach stood behind her like a small army. Sophie and Jenny's family stood much further back, ready to run when things got bad, or so she presumed. She pulled the handles down, which made a uncomfortable squeaky sound, and pushed the doors open into the arcade room.
The room was electrified with the sound of machines, just as it had been in her dreams, and she reluctantly moved further into the room, waiting for the door to shut behind the others. Her eyes immediately fixed onto the fortune telling box at the back of the arcade, which was not covered by a cloth but was still too dim to see inside. It didn't matter. She knew what was in it.
"What's going on?" Joey shouted over the commotion. It probably wasn't a rhetorical question, but no one answered; all available ears were shielded from the eerily dragging fairground music. Jenny kept her eyes permanently fixed on the fortune telling box on the other side of the room, talking herself into striding up to it and evoking the rune before anything else could stop her.
But it was never going to be that simple.
The noise ceased, and hands were released from ears slowly, with eyes scanning the room. Jenny finally tore her eyes away from the box and looked around to the various wooden cabinets. Little wooden puppet shows to activate, the grandfather clock, the 'Yes and No' box, they already felt wrong in this familiar silence, but the fact that there were newly replenished rotting heads in the 'Yes and No' box, and the little wooden dolls didn't seem so wooden, was far more unsettling than anything else. She wanted someone to say something, to acknowledge the information she was processing, but the voices started. Low, monotonous voices, speaking in unison like some strange chant.
"I, slipping on slime-edged stones,
To that dark place by rusty foxfire lit,
Where they lie waiting, fingering old bones,
Go with my question…."
The poem was spoken with a hint of anguish in those voices, all speaking exactly in time, like they were one being. It echoed around the room, echoed through the bones and minds of their audience, so that everyone felt the utter sorrow behind these ancient hypnotic words, even if its meaning wasn't understood. The voices were coming from the corpses in the machines; Jenny watched their mouths move in time to the words, perfectly clear despite their limp, decomposing lips, with an unsettling sensation in her stomach. They were corpses that were mere left overs of the sorcerers or overly-curious messing with forbidden things, reciting their punishment like a class of bored children,
"I take my puzzle. Like the other fools
Who've slipped on these same stones and played and lost
I come because I must. I have no choice.
The Game is timeless and now I've lost,"
Jenny sensed someone putting a hand to their mouth. She thought it was Sophie, but turned to find out it was Summer, overwhelmed with the amount of suffering in the room. Jenny turned back and defiantly inhaled, letting her eyes close only for a second to mourn these endlessly tormented souls, then took a step. And another. And another. The group behind her didn't follow this time.
"I leave them waiting there below.
I hear them laughing as I go."
As the last line was spoken, a haunting cackle took the place of the voices; beginning with a single, low melodious sound that became more and more insane as others joined in. The shadow men were watching her, from any one of the shadows in the room; maybe all of them. Jenny didn't stop. She was gradually closing the distance between herself and the cabinet that would end it all, would save the people she loved. All of them.
A mist was seeping into the room from an unknown place, full of peril and threat. It was wrapping itself around their legs, pulling them into its clutches, but there wasn't time to be frightened by it now. There was also an unmistakeable drop in the temperature, so much so that Jenny didn't even realise she had brought up her arms to hug herself for warmth. This was enough to move her friends; they seemed to have been activated by the icy atmosphere surrounding them, and Jenny wasn't completely sympathetic. She didn't want to have to face this alone.
Jennyyyyyy. A distinct whisper from the cackling beckoned to her, and momentarily stopped her in her tracks. It belonged to a voice she recognised, but from a faraway memory, something she'd only heard once before. It had to be one of the elders, because it certainly wasn't human. Other voices joined him, calling her friends' names, tantalising them with their irresistibly musical tones. The cold air had turned to a light breeze that was quickly progressing into a whistling gale. Jenny continued forward, hoping the others were following her, pushing through the wind that was trying to pull her back. The corpses were speaking again, adding to the mayhem with a reprise of the poem, spoken louder but in the same, droning tone.
"Where they lie waiting, fingering old bones,
Go with my question. Deep into the pit…"
Through squinted eyes, Jenny could make out the fortune telling box a little distance away from her. She focused on her goal, and allowed herself to look back once to check her friends were close.
"And truth is told but always at a cost…"
They weren't directly behind her, but they were on the right track. Dee was urging her friends forward, and shouting words to them that Jenny couldn't make out over the piercing scream of the wind and the many other voices whistling into it.
"I come because I must. I have no choice…"
She turned back, leaning forward to pick up speed, and concentrated on her steps. 6 more strides left, 5 more strides….
"So I must pay the final cost…"
She was so close, she could almost grasp the corner of the cabinet now. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul, Jenny remembered how the words were for her. She couldn't give up now.
"I hear them laughing as I go…."
There! Her hand clutched the corner, fingers locking around the wooden border of the cabinet surrounding the glass, and hauled herself towards it until she could hug the box to her body. The pandemonium died down with her heavy breathing, and everyone including Jenny collapsed to the floor with exhaustion.
"We need to evoke that rune right now." Jenny gasped to Michael, who was propping himself up into a sitting position.
"Right, yeah." He sighed, reaching into his pockets for the clues, "I need a knife."
"Will a pocket multi-tool work?" Mr Thornton offered without question. It was strange how situations like these could change the rules of humanity so dramatically. Michael took it from him with a weak, strained smile in place of verbal gratitude, and began to arrange the clues so he could form the bindrune. Jenny watched him attentively, and saw the knife move towards the cabinet, ready to start the carving, when Michael was unexpectedly shoved into her. She fell into a cabinet behind her, head first, and the sudden impact stunned her for a long moment. She watched her friends scuttling away from something, Michael was backing away with the knife held up defensively, eyes wide with disgust and fear. When the confusion faded, the thing that had stepped out of the shadows, which looked horrifically familiar, was looming over her.
It was black and charred, and smelt of foul, putrid flesh. The eyes were a terrifying contrast in its eye sockets, which were looking down at her with wide pupils and barely visible gold-flecked green irises.
"Hello Thorny." Tom's voice was the worst of it; less a voice than a growl, a gargling, throaty sound that seemed too distorted to be associated with anything human. Except this wasn't him anymore, Tom Locke was gone, and in his place was an obedient servant to the Shadow Race, a heartless creature of the darkness who would use Tom's body as their own little puppet.
Jenny backed away as fast as she could, but it had taken hold of her legs and was pulling her back. Dee reacted in no time, landing a kick in the thing's chest and sending it backward into another row of cabinets. Jenny had just enough time to scramble to her feet and turn to Michael before it was reaching out for her arm, trying to pull her back down to the floor.
"Michael! Do it now!" she screamed as Dee impacted her fist with its arm, sending Jenny stumbling backwards, without knocking her onto the ground again. Michael returned to where the bind rune lay on the floor, and proceeded to carve into the wooden fortune telling box more hurriedly.
"Help me restrain him!" Dee ordered, twisting its arms behind its back with all the strength she could muster. Zach, Audrey and Jenny moved in to help, but the thing broke free from her grip and swung a blow into Dee's face just as they reached her, and she fell unconscious into the wall of cabinets. In another quick movement, it reached out for Jenny's neck and lifted her so her feet were helplessly dangling, so she was forced to stare wide-eyed into the savage eyes of her predator, which had started to glow a startling shade of green.
"Where's the fight in you Jenny?" that awful voice came again, trembling threw her bones, rising bile in her imprisoned throat. She heard her friend's screams and panic from behind Tom's body, deciding the best way to save their friend. Beating his back like Audrey was doing didn't bother him, and Summer's beckoning he didn't even seem to hear. She couldn't even imagine how her family was dealing with this madness.
"Michael, give me that knife!" Zach demanded in the same tone he had used trying to rescue Jenny in the first game.
"But, I'm almost fini…"
"No!" Jenny cried in her strangled voice, causing the thing to half smile up at her, "Don't stop carving!"
She scratched at the arm holding her up and kicked at its chest as hard as she could, hoping that Michael would have the sense to listen to her. It stared into her eyes, mocking her vulnerability, her pathetic attempt to escape its death grip. It wanted her to die this way, Darien would relish in his victory. He had told her he would win.
Then why would he give her this opportunity? She realised with great defeat that he wouldn't. There would be a far more powerful obstacle in the way, something that would be affecting Michael, and not her. He had made this too easy; the wind and the voices, that was not something that was meant to stop them; it was a spectacle. To make the moment more interesting. Darien must have understood the change of expression of Jenny's face, because he decided to drop her. She fell to the floor feeling numb and lifeless, even the pain caused by the fall hadn't registered as she reluctantly lifted her head to watch Michael slash the blood-stained bind rune with his index finger.
The fortune telling box started to light up slowly, followed by an eerie blue light that grew until it illuminated the entire cabinet. The light was too blinding to look at for long, and Jenny only caught a three second glimpse of Julian's wooden prison before she had to shield her eyes from its intensity. She heard the sound of glass smashing, and then it was over. The light vanished, and all that was left of Julian's release was a pile of broken glass surrounding the cabinet. In the place of his wooden figure sat an ordinary looking wizard that faintly resembled her grandfather.
"It that it?" Michael asked disappointedly. Jenny got on her feet and walked up to the cabinet, holding down a deep sadness that she was scared to unleash.
"But…where's Julian?" Summer sounded confused and upset by this uneventful outcome. She looked to Jenny, who was feeling the wooden surface of the cabinet, ignoring the unanswered questions that she knew the answers to. She was glad she realised before Michael had evoked the rune, otherwise this agonising pain building in her stomach would have been harder to contain. She hoped to feel some of his energy, some of his life, still trapped in this wood, but at the same time she was glad he was finally free from Darien.
"Congratulations. You have reached the end of the game." As if on cue, Darien's mesmerizing voice poisoned Jenny's ears, and she turned to face him with as much hatred in her expression as she could fathom. He was standing by Tom's corpse, which was collapsed on the floor by his feet. She imagined he had stepped out of it while she'd had her back turned.
"Where is he?" Audrey asked, "Where's Julian?"
"Well, he isn't in there anymore." He casually gestured to the fortune telling box, briefly making eye contact with the enraged Jenny standing in front of it.
"That doesn't answer my question."
Darien smiled cunningly, a playful secret behind those audacious green eyes. Jenny noticed he was wearing his gothic ringmaster outfit again, and holding his top hat. He took three slow, precise steps towards Audrey, holding her eyes while he adjusted the hat on his perfectly styled black hair.
"He is with my elders, for now."
"So…he's not coming back?" Michael said the words as if confirming them. Audrey turned to look at Jenny with absolute unquestioning sympathy in her eyes, but Jenny's hard stare was fixed onto the side of Darien's head, waiting for him to address her.
Darien chuckled musically, "Of course not! Why would I bring him back?"
"Because that was the deal, you promised!" Summer screeched at him. She seemed to feel as betrayed as Jenny in her desperate, almost pleading cry. Zach tugged at her arm, urging her back into his protection when Darien's eyes moved to her.
"I made no promises," he corrected defensively, "But I did make agreements with Jenny." He turned to look her now, that same little secret hidden behind his wolfish grin.
"I said I would grant you his freedom," Darien pulled the rune stave out from his jacket pocket, and a knife that Jenny remembered all-too clearly. A knife with a very specific purpose. Jenny watched with an uncomfortable stinging starting behind her eyes as Darien brought the knife to the stave and slashed the runes out of it without a second thought. Like crossing out a mistake. If Julian had been brought back at all, she was certain now that he was gone. When she was sure he wasn't going to continue, she spoke.
"And returning him to me?" she asked in a low, controlled voice. This made him grin.
"Well I can't do that now, can I? Didn't you just watch me carve him out of existence?" she knew this was coming, just like she'd known she wasn't getting him back. He had never intended to, since she hadn't really won. She hadn't defeated Darien.
"You tricked us. You lied to us!" Summer was crying now. Jenny understood why now; she had been the only one who believed the games had changed people for the better, and now she had to watch her friend become crushed and ridiculed by them.
"Jenny always knew, deep down, she was never going to see him again," he was walking over to Jenny, eyes piercing into hers, savouring the vengeful anger he saw there, "that's why she's been mourning him."
It took every ounce of her self-control to refrain from trying to fight the psychopathic monster standing right in front of her, excitedly anticipating her reaction. Willing her to explode. It was what he wanted more than anything, it would be a good reason to kill her.
"Why did you do this? What have you gained from your game?" Jenny was finding steady breathing difficult now, her calm façade was quickly slipping as she burned into her enemies eyes.
"My game," his eyelids dropped for a short moment, "Wasn't with you Jenny. It was with Julian. He believed you weren't stupid enough to come back into the Realm of Shadows for anything, not even him," His tone was horribly polite, a mood that didn't match the menace of his features, "I thought this incorrect, and I was right. You are stupid enough." Jenny's eyes turned to slits. She bit down hard on the insides of her mouth, and hands clenched into fists. The control was slipping far too quickly.
"My toy was becoming boring, so as an individual who was literally born to entertain, I thought I would give my ancestors a well-needed finale to unfinished business." Darien explained, and a faint echo of The Elder's devious cackling surrounded Darien as he bowed mockingly to his audience.
Jenny couldn't hold her anger in any longer. Without caring about the consequences, she slapped Darien across the face, as hard as she could muster, knowing it wouldn't hurt him. She wanted to do it for her, she wanted to let out all of the hidden pain and longing for the man she could never have, it didn't matter what happened to her anymore. She didn't care.
"You asshole! You sick, repugnant piece of..." she was mindlessly launching blows at him now, even though the abuse was hurting her instead of him, and because of this, Darien let her. He didn't stop her, he didn't flinch, he only watched with total satisfaction. When she was breathless and sure she'd broken her knuckles, he let out a dreamy sigh.
"If only you'd shown some of that rage during the game. We could have had such fun you and I. But now I am tiring of you, and I want you to leave." He gestured towards the door of the arcade with a courteous smile on his lips, "Thank you for playing a part in Julian's defeat."
"You're not going to kill us?" Michael asked. Dee was getting up, and Audrey and Summer were by her side, presumably explaining the situation.
"I have no reason to. This is me finishing off the stupidity that Julian started for my Elders; Julian was fully shamed, Jenny's family bared witness to Jenny's story, Tom is dead, though that one wasn't originally planned, have I missed anything out?" he was being so casual, it was hard to believe he had tortured them for the past few days, "I have proven my ability to carry out a successful game, I have demonstrated my imaginative skills and deceptions, I will be a far more reliable investment for my Elders. I will be good at hunting my prey, but you, I have no claim to. Not yet."
Jenny's mind was clear of all questions now. She had discovered so much in such a short time, that her head ached. For the first time in a while, she looked over to Sophie and her family; the horrified and confused spectators who'd listened without questioning the reasons behind anything because they knew they could never understand. Whose lives had now changed forever, and it was all her fault.
"We may meet again one day, under much more fatal circumstances. But for now, I have no more need for you."
Just like that, it was over. Darien disappeared, and they were left bewildered and weary until they finally decided to follow his orders, and went through the double doors, hoping they would lead them home.
So yeah, thoughts? I'll start writing the last two chapters as soon as I can force myself to.