Warnings: probably slight language, Intense Descriptions (e.g. reference to Character Death), Survivor's Guilt, Violence, Sensitive Topics (e.g. supernatural)

Note: ironically about half way through writing this chapter, I See Fire by Ed Sheeran came on, and I'm really loving this song lately.

Chapter Nine: Strange Things Did Happen Here, No Stranger Would It Be, If We Met, At Midnight In The Hanging Tree

It was the aroma of expensive foods that reached Alex's attention before he opened the double doors. His field of vision showed him his arms; pushing the doors open, wrists covered by a black under shirt and arms showing that he was wearing a grey suit. This perfect image of formality brought his senses back to the space of the sublime facility of a ballroom. And by space, we mean 'lack thereof', as Alex's shoulders tensed, eyeing the crowds of guests that surrounded the tables. Second thing that caught his attention was the almost-Hollywood sizes and appearances of the food contained on the tables.He hardly recognised anybody except the Pleasures, who were among the elder groups at a further table.

Once the fifteen year old stepped into the open room, his right hand clenched the bottom of his blazer to refrain from flinching. He had never attended a ball or a dance before, but somehow he felt comfortable within the suit as though it was familiar or a common occurrence. Similarly, he barely reacted when majority of the room cheered upon his arrival. With ease merely possessed through time, the boy finally strode into the room, subconsciously holding his breath, double checking the guards standing at the doorway. Time seemed to stand still for a second, unsure of whether he hallucinated them nodding their heads sullenly or not, like a signal.

He could feel the silence spread among the room upon opening his mouth, smoothly greeting the audience as though it was rehearsed. "Welcome, I'm sure you all know your ranks so you can sit down whilst I, um, make the introductions..."

Behind him, Alex could hear the footsteps of the guards moving, a trailed whispered of 'thanks, doctrine' fading further away. Somehow, he didn't bother to wonder why the guards were evacuating, instead he smiled formally to the crowd that was still staring at him.

He made his way straight across to the Pleasures, ignoring the abrupt laughter that happened to the left and the sound of plates colliding on the right of him. Steadying himself, he laid an arm on Mrs. Pleasure's shoulder, readily smiling for when she'd turn to face him, "hey-"

Before Alex could make sense of the flash of blood across the lady's face, he became entranced by the sound of a gasp, echoing like an overlap across the walls.

The moment passed, like the fog in front of Mrs. Pleasure's face turned into a grin and a reply: "it's nice to see you smiling but sweetheart, if you don't entertain your guests soon they'll just feel like they came here to pay for their meals. When you just wanna eat, it's better to bother doing that at home, you know?"

Glancing at Sabina and Mr. Pleasure's reactions- both which were ignoring him in a conversation, un-nerved him slightly before he sighed. Turning back to the crowds, he fought for the words to find. He noticed time was still moving slow, like the opposite of his panic attacks. Watching a male pick out an apple at a table and bite into it, with juices rolling off his chin, he frowned. Panic attacks? Fighting for the memory of losing that control, Alex struggled to recall it, and decided to ignore the ideas for now: Mrs. Pleasure was right. "Good evening... We have all the nobility here and I'm grateful that we get to celebrate today..."

The man eating the apple moved passed Alex, momentarily distracting him as he swiftly moved aside. The action was small but despite being present in the ballroom, it felt like a flashback. He questioned the force of this celebration, which seemed to lacked the more he tried focusing on a specific phase. He spent too long trying to remember what horrible situation happened for him to miss an outstanding day. It was as though there was an absence within the current room.

Somebody in the background cheered, again.

"Come over here, Rider!"

"Here's a spare seat, join us whilst we discuss your accomplishments on this remarkable reunion!"

Most of the crowd seemed to filter back like robots into their personal conversations. Whilst observing them, the stench of rotten apples captured his attention. Disgruntled, Alex looked to the Pleasures for some guidance only to find that they were laughing mindlessly in the same conversation. Mrs. Pleasure's back was to him, but he could still picture the blood- He nearly tripped over his leather shoes at how quickly he spun around, aiming towards the louder group that called out to him. Conveniently he also noticed, they positioned themselves next to the desert section.

A man with white hair, and what Alex glimpsed to be red-tinted glasses, took that opportunity to wrap his arm around Alex's shoulders. "Alex!" The man exclaimed, like they had a close connection in the past.

At first inspection, he noticed it was an intimidating surrounding of mostly adult-males (the glare of a man's expression covered in the map of the world held his focus the longest). Everybody's attention stared towards Alex, with the exception of a a black-hair female. She was cutting into a slice of cake, with slight OCD precision. Without 'Red-Glasses' arms holding him down, Alex would've jumped at her Welsh voice, "very successful, Mr. Rider, 11/10 for that time you killed me by merely dropping a hot balloon's platform onto me, from the sky!"

Like on cue, there was a clash of plates somewhere in the room followed by loud laughter.

The commotion and accusation from the lady who finally looked up into his eyes, grinning with perfect teeth, made him flinch so hard he fell into a death grip of Red-Glass' hold on behind his neck. Awkwardly, he hesitated, "I don't remember that play."

"That's okay," another man stepped towards Alex, with piercing green eyes. Despite the uniqueness of the colour, Alex couldn't avoid the resentment that he identified in them. "I have film footage of you playing another game. Your life is like theatre."

Alex inhaled slowly, throwing an attempt to duck from under Red-Glasses' grip. "I'd love to see that film, Cray," Red-Glasses said whilst tightening his hold on Alex's neck, "I heard it was a hell of a flight!"

Oh, God, Alex froze, blinking away images of snakes, bloody coins and interior designs of Air Force One... "wait-"

The Welsh lady muttered, "well if there's one thing we all have in common is that we're murders."

"You can't say that I did that-" Alex felt bile rising in his throat as he watched the lady giggle and shake her head at him. "Don't shake your bloody head at me!"

"You destroyed the only thing that I lived for!" The lady placed the plate with cake back onto the table, rather delicately in contrast to the venom she spat. "We didn't get involved in your life initially, you made choices and our lives interlinked then! And, now you know? We're all fucked!"

The harsh words snapped something deep inside Alex's brain; like a vine strangling around a memory, or two or... At the moment Alex thought'I need to sit down', Red-Glasses removed his arms. Alex held his breath waiting for somebody to say something else.

Finally, the curly black hair Caucasian male- who was standing so quietly at the back that Alex had barely acknowledged him, had stepped forward with his hands up. "Now, now, today is to celebrate so I respect that we can all elaborate on the murderous luck of the devil that Alex possesses, but first shall we not sit down and share over some desert?"

The suggestion caused murmurs of agreement (comments about this cake, and that ice cream and-) but didn't lighten the tension. With the proximity distanced finally, Alex exhaled and spared a glance to the other guests. He bit the inside of his cheek wondering how long he was standing with this crowd as everybody else seemed to be mirror images of earlier. He doubted any digestion of the deserts in this environment he gradually felt dangerous (evidently almost forgetting about the rotting apples in the opposite table). He couldn't stomach this group accusing him of crimes worth by the death penalty as royalty, and as human...

Upon turning around, Alex was surprised to see everybody was already sitting down. Basking in the imagery as such intimidating men all rhythmically ate into various deserts, he jumped when the welsh female clapped a rough hand across his back. "If it pleases you, your doctrine, why don't you sit with us?" She started, an obvious amount of sarcasm dripping from her words. "Grace us with your royal company!"

Instinctively Alex's gaze drifted from the female's face, alerted by a new presence at the table the same time the welsh female gracefully sat in her seat. Nobody noticed Alex's shaking freeze as his eyes focused on the person across the table.

"Mr. Rider?" somebody called to him, but Alex didn't dare to blink. Temporarily he forgot about the guests surrounding him, for a moment time switched into a slower premise of a distant memory that shouldn't exist.

Like tunnel vision, a world of reality brought Alex back to the arrangement of people across Alex, who weren't so much strangers any more. "Wait-"

"Are you messing with us, Mr. Rider?" Somebody sneered. Alex hesitated before rubbed his face, refraining from groaning. "Or maybe you're starting to come back to your senses. That's be better entertainment; you deserve to suffer your own actions."

Alex really did want to question them about it, about these accusations, but he couldn't ignore the growing feeling that something was wrong and he was in the middle of it. Maybe it's better not to know? But when he lifted his gaze back from his hands the ghost hadn't disappeared. Followed by darkened tinges of red and burns from the pale-ness of its skin, lifted Alex's horrified gaze to the boldness of the fire that was the lady's hair.

Finally, the Welsh lady interrupted his horrified staring match with an impatient voice, "here is an empty seat in front of me, why don't you move around and-"

Refraining from gulping at the voice he now interlinked with Scorpia, he shook his head, "no, the table is full."

Despite having willingly stared at the ghost seconds prior, Alex suddenly couldn't bear to look anybody in the eyes. He wanted a pit of hell to erupt from his chest and drag him into the ground, to disappear. Besides, who dares to look at something that would frighten the devil?

A distinct feeling of hell continued throughout his veins sparse into the atmosphere, like the heat of his blood pressure was caging the room. When Alex realised hardly anybody was speaking, he looked up again. Upon the sight of the room- lightened up by a red glow of fire, he stumbled backwards, only to be caught by the man he least would've wanted to have contact with in this room, or ever: the quiet Caucasian.

He figured he must've given a strange look because even within the mist of chaos (he heard guests merging to their feet), the curly, black hair man gave a small smile. "You're actually starting to recognise us now?"

For an insane moment, Alex's eyes just widened as the man took his arm and attempted to yank him towards some direction, most likely the exit.Ghosts? Alex thought bewildered, are they all ghosts? He tried to imagine himself as a ghost but got caught by the explosion of a door somewhere on the left of him. Almost immediately, he felt the lick of heat touch his limbs after the man let go of his arm.He should've felt panic, he really should've felt something- but all he did do was lift his gaze away from the man that he decided ruined his life.

The greatest source of energy spiralled around the desert table; a wave of red that Alex could identify as her hair.

Her hair. Like how her eyes used to be so clear and beautiful, and now all he could see was fire lighting her.

All the voices of the evil men that Alex had murdered came back to him, they were all dead because of him- the problem was that one of them was his fault that should have never happened. All of the ghosts in the room was his fault, he didn't even dare to move his eyes away from her torture to check if the Pleasures in this nightmare were real. In the end they all turned up the same: a ghost, dead. So what does that make me? Does a person's intentions make any difference in hell, or to the conscience?

She didn't deserve it.

"Alex, you need to listen to me: the ceiling is about to-"

Barely blinking despite feeling hot tears drop from his eyes, he stumbled away from the voice. What devil's luck? Alex scoffed, not only am I facing my worst nightmare in this stupid room, but I also have to pay attention to who was supposed to be just my damn god father-

The sound of wood creaking and then snapping erupted somewhere. Evidently frustrated, Alex's god father whipped him around and gripped both his shoulders using his nails. Looking into Ash's eyes, Alex couldn't find any familiar warmth that he once saw during Snakehead, which might as well been a different dimension of life. For that wild second he acknowledged the irony: not even the heat from the fire could warm up the eyes of the man that should have been a better figure of a family, the man with the name 'Ash.'

Almost numbly he watched Ash's lips mouth. Despite the rapid commotion and danger surrounding him, he entertained the idea that with him fading in and out, Ash had the opportunity actually attack him up, or at least he wouldn't put it past him to slap him. The sound of the ceiling collapsing and having Ash force him out of the way had interrupted any form of communication.

He felt the heat intensify into a hiss at the back of his knee before he even registered that he had even moved out of his standing position two seconds earlier. Movement was happening all around him, but all he could feel was the burning sensation at his leg. It was like branches grasping around his calf actually dragging him down to hell, and he couldn't help but groan at the memory that seconds prior he mentally hoped for that.

When Alex heard Ash call for him again it sounded more like a growl, until he twisted around on the floor. The sight of his leg informed him that Ash was more of a warning call. Fire was caught on his leg and like a forest swallowed by the fog, smoke was lifting into his nose. Frantic, he rolled over coughing onto the floor, choking on his tears and the fire's smoke. He elbowed backwards when he assumed Ash was attempting to assist him, causing him to feel a searing flame across the back of his arm. If he could open his mouth, he probably would've said something intelligent like 'what' but realistically, Alex kept his mouth closed to avoid screaming.

The heat was wrapping his body up so quickly he thought he had rolled into a space of fire that was spreading. The idea aided a sudden daunting feeling of claustrophobia, vision of red blurring rapidly with his blinking. Consequently, he could hear himself panting against white noise that exploded in one of his ears, he couldn't even focus to check if Ash or the guests were still in the room, calling at him like he was a moron.

Check, Alex, you child, a voice whispered.

Adults nag into your brain throughout your younger years about this.

What are you supposed to do during a fire?

At the off thought at the back of his frustrated mind, Alex crumbled into the word: 'run.'

Ideally, if Alex hadn't gotten trapped (a common phobia of claustrophobia, this circumstances ensured by smoke and a room exploding on fire), he would've reacted logically. Logically, the answer would've been to duck and roll. Ideally, it would've been to avoid the fire in the first place, even if that meant running.

Consumed by the opposite of those options, Alex might've rolled his eyes at the bitterness of the hopeless situation. Instead he choked back a sob and wiped at his eyes with shaky hands. Eventually, but frustratingly not quickly enough, his eyes became clear enough that he let his instincts cloud over his actions: to thrash on the floor against whatever was held against him.

The weight of the temperature and figure that engulfed him became heavier after his resistance, spreading a surge of despair through his bones like a chill despite the environment. For a fleeting moment he hesitated, imagining himself restraining for so long that he got weaker and weaker, feeling his lungs slowly being fuelled out by the smoke and dying by suffocation. Alex had never fascinated the idea of death, but the image of struggling to see even a bit of light behind the blinding red flames was something he didn't desire, not even in this moment of despair.

As quickly as he could he wiped away the new tears and rubbed his face, blinking to assess his surroundings. With the speed of these actions mixed in with panic, left the teenager sorely under-prepared for the sight that rested almost at a nose-distance away. Gasping for air, he automatically jerked backwards causing his body into shock with his eyes bugging open so wide that the smoke started to sting. "No-"

Fingertips softly touched both of his upper arms, searing heat spreading like a hand across his skin at the same time he felt the motion burning across his ankles up to his hips, and a hot pressure being pushed against his chest. After believing that he was trapped for a period of time, it was as though Alex felt the exact second his brain snapped and couldn't handle the current situation with his eyes open. His limbs were visibly shaking again now, under the flaming body of the ghost of her. She had practically all but hugged herself against him, holding him down against his death.

All thoughts collided with the puff of heat she exhaled across his nose and cheek, a mirror of her smile licked across red that he wished was lipstick to matching her now unrelenting gaze- and then there was no blackness, because there was nothing else.


A/N (I felt really weird writing such a long note in italics after doing an entire chapter on it so here you go in normal font this time!): So I have a wary feeling that this story has been abandoned collectively: meaning that I had gone on an abrupt hiatus (fricking semester 2 of university punched me in the face when I was still adapting from semester 1).

Essentially, I'm concerned that my followers of this story has given up on this (maybe it's my consistency or it's just not something they're interested in, all understandable) or moved on/forgot about this story, or maybe they got caught up in life and don't return to fanfiction commonly, like I understand: life happens, passwords are forgotten... But I'm writing this to say: I don't intend to abandon this story. It's just rather difficult to balance life and writer's block- especially since I barely write within the recent years, whenever I return it's like I'm rediscovering writing because my writing keeps evolving and adapting and it's like BAM, I'm back in 2009 when I joined this site confused with where I stand and how I flow stories I'm attempting to write, etc.*ugh* writing is hard, as much as it's attractive to me.

I can vividly remember the moment in September when I attempted to write this chapter: I was sitting next to the window and the wind was insane outside like it was threatening to rain... and I was massively sleep deprived, with a coffee cup in front of my broken-tattered bag when it happened:

'Note I typed out then: god dammit. I had to reset my mobile and on the calendar I had note-details of the next few days before and after Alex goes back to school... and whilst reseting my mobile, I had some how forgotten that basically everything I needed for TITGEscape was there. I remember none of it now. So I don't have much of a plan... I mean, gratefully I remembered what I was doing for this chapter in vague ideas, but I just don't know what I'm doing from here, or when he goes back to school or anything I know was plot twists and relevant. This will either help my author's block improve or get worse.'

I kind of hope none of you reading that actually personally know how that feels because I feel like pulling at my hair in despair but, then again, I kind of feel really confused and hopeless of where and what to do and go in this story and I need some form of understanding here

*out comes a wild author's block*... Seriously, like: Game. Over.

I've taken time to go back and read all the current chapters (attempting not to cringe too hard at my a/ns - but I'm under the illusion that most people don't bother reading them since I don't get much response to them, which is fine I guess, it's just slightly embarrassing- and distorting since some notes are critical such as this long one because it explains what's going on, or any notices).

That being said, I'm still really grateful for all my views, because that means somebody decided my story was worth viewing- and I'm so relieved and happy that some individuals took the time to review, I appreciate it because it gives me insight to how my writing is progressing and what people's constructive opinions are. Personally, I know my writing and plot always has room for improvement and it takes courage to overlook it with feedback to develop, and of course, I don't want this fandom to fall into Fandom Silence, my reviewing box and inbox is always open to fangirl/boy!

I didn't like this chapter much at all. It was the worst one I struggled with in writing, it was like my brain was freezing and I couldn't produce more than a paragraph a day. I'm not confident in it at all- and I'm dissatisfied because in my previous a/n, it implied that something important or curious would happen in this chapter. Initially, what I intended to happen was not a dream, and then when I started typing out the dream I didn't intend for it to breach into an entire chapter. But without my notes and plans that I used to keep in my mobile, I didn't know how to work towards what was going to happen: so I'm hoping this dream will kick-start that and it should be done in the next chapter.

When I went back and read my previous chapters, at the end of the previous one, Alex fell asleep on the couch reading Macbeth, so I used that as inspiration for his dream here. I went through this chapter twice to edit it, but I'm feeling really down and exhausted so I'm giving up and hoping it's coherent: some things that Alex says and whatever is actual direct quotes from No Fear Shakespeare. The whole setting and scenery of this dream was based on Macbeth Act Three, Scene Four- where Macbeth hosts a dinner and basically shit flips out when he sees a ghost at his seat. All the little hints, even things that probably wouldn't seem to connect with Shakespeare I tried incorporating at least every paragraph or two.

I'm not even sorry for my long A/N here. I'm hoping to have the next chapter uploaded by Christmas.