In the small hours before the dawn, the vampire visits with Roz in her “cell” wherein a promise is made.
After two days and nights of action, the werewolf finally gets to rest.
The changelings dream of a forgotten memory.
Your Keeper is a squat goblin-like creature of indeterminable gender, broader than it is tall. Its flabby gut spills over the rotting rope tied around its waist, serving as a makeshift belt, tenuously securing its frayed and filthy rags to its body. It's crinkled and blemished face is set with beady eyes and wide mouth filled with yellowed needle-like teeth, caked with detritus. Its breath is perpetually as foul at the fetid swamp in which it resides.
Your Keeper reminds you not to venture too far from the lights. Torches of green fire blaze in the endless night, sporadically placed throughout the mire around the hut. Best not to venture too close to the lights either, where the nearsighted Hounds can make out your shape more clearly. The Dark, your Keeper warns you, holds a worse fate than the Hounds though for it belongs to another. And the Other keeps neither pets nor servants. The Other cares only to Devour.
On this occasion, you are zigzagging from the outer edge of one circle of light to the next, seeking something new and exciting for your next concoction. You've made your way a greater distance from the hut than you've even been before. You pause when you spot the next light. It looks tiny. It must be spaced a great deal farther than the last one. You steel your will and try to close the distance quickly, lest you be beset by something hiding in the darkness. As you draw closer though you come to realize it's not that far away after all. Your perception has fooled you. It is in fact a tiny light. It's not a torch at all but some kind of fiery wisp and it's moving, floating through the air. You stand and watch in fascination for a moment as it dances. A cold chill of panic comes over you when you remember your situation. There is no next torch. You're exposed in the Dark. You immediately try to turn back but something at your feet stops you. You realize you're standing at the edge of a pool of still water that stretches out before you towards the wisp. The water is inky-black except for… there is the slightest glow. Somewhere in the depths there is a light and its steadily becoming brighter and… Growing? As the light brightens it also expands. As it expands it takes on myriad shifting and scintillating colors. Colors the likes of which you've never seen before and will never see again. It's utterly mesmerizing. You're so captivated you stand in a sort of stupefied paralysis. You fail to react even as the source of the light rises from the water on the end of a stalk, just as you fail to notice the horror rising with it from the depths below.
Your transfixion is broken by one thing only. A tiny green light appears in your peripheral vision. The wisp is beside you now. You feel a delicate hand on your shoulder and then you are quite suddenly and forcefully yanked or thrown backwards. You land on your back in the mud, spellbound stupor broken, at the same instant you see a massive pair of jaws rush out of the black water and snap shut in the space you occupied a split second earlier. The wave of abject terror that follows leaves you feeling drained and weak.
You awaken drenched in cold sweat with a name on your lips. “Lorelei.”
Your Keeper is a grotesque fiend. She has what would be a lovely woman's face were it not marked by the pallor of death and the flesh not stripped away where her missing jaw belonged. Her ruined face is ringed by wild flowing hair that dissipates into oily black smoke that surrounds the rest of her form and trails behind her. Beneath her death mask face, dangling tongue, and bloodied throat lies a bare rib cage burst open. Jaggedly broken bones jut forward around a cavernous dark empty space save for her still-beating heart. Her severed spine hangs midst the smoke below.
You are nearly nothing when your Keeper brings you with her to the party. You exist as an ephemeral thing, naught more than a cloud of smoke yourself. As nearly nothing, you go largely unnoticed. You observe the goings-on for a time.
A young man resembling a porcelain doll and dressed like a mummer makes himself look busy even when he is not and especially when the bedazzled statuary at the head of the table is paying attention.
A disgusting, wretched little goblin has brought an older man and a kettle of something that smells foul to the feast. The kettle goes untouched by the rest of the guests for some time until the goblin, offended that no one has elected to partake, forces the man to drink. The rest of the Keepers enjoy a hearty laugh as his expense as he vomits blood and viscera for several minutes.
A pretty golden-haired girl in her late teens sits passively on the lap of an Adonis in a black-feathered cloak. She looks anemic and like she's having a hard time keeping awake. He looks to be the center of attention so far as the other Keepers are concerned. They ask him rather prying questions in rather roundabout ways. They look at him with hunger in their eyes. “I am but a poor man with naught left but my name. What could I possibly have to offer any of you?” he asks with a sly smile. He mocks them with his feigned humility.
You grow bored of hovering and listening to them prattle on. You drift away down the labyrinthine passages, exploring, investigating the hidden nooks and crannies. In one such nook you spy something even more out of place than the twisting halls that defy the laws of space and gravity. Something green. There is a crack in the stone and through that crack creeps a tendril of green thorny vine. You remember the thorns. The thorns are outside. The thorns mark the space between the prisons your Keepers warden and the way back home.
You fly back to the great hall with haste. You float down to the ear of the servant boy, the one whose gilded cage you're in. You shout at the top of your lungs to be heard. Coming from nearly nothing though, all the lad hears is “…know… way out…” barely louder than his own breath. It sends a chill down his spine. You realize you must become More in order to conspire to escape. Fortunately, as your Keeper once said, “you're a Taker, Larry.” You will Take.
You remember the day the armor cracked.
Your Keeper is a towering suit of medieval armor, blackened and empty save for cold fire burning behind the eye sockets. The metal stubbornly refused to yield to your fists. That is, until they took on the same coarse character as the gargoyles that served as your jailors. You had been broken down and built back up again so many times, more scarred and calloused each time, you finally became as resilient as the stone itself. With your newfound fortitude, you withstood your Keeper's gauntleted fists, held your ground, and struck back with a blow so mighty a crack sundered his breastplate with a thunderous sound. Your Keeper froze with surprise. You stopped in disbelief. Your Keeper took a step back from you, rising to his full height and staring down at the “wound.” There was a prolonged moment of tense silence which was finally broken by a sound you didn't expect. Laughter. Your Keeper threw his head back in hearty, roaring laughter. He was pleased. “Yes!” He bellowed. “I knew I did well in choosing you!” And he left. The gargoyles came to collect you as they always did. They took you to the surgeon as they always did. But this time, you were entirely unharmed. This was the first time you ever visited the infirmary fully conscious.
The gargoyles posted up on either side of the door and went still, as usual. You and the good doctor were left effectively alone to talk. His name was Drew, a med student at Rutgers. At least he was a long time ago. A fateful encounter landed him in a different Hell than this. His prior Keeper sold him to the suit of armor when he outlived his usefulness. “You hurt him?” Drew asked you, with hope in his voice. “It's the only reason you'd be here not a bloody mess. You actually damaged the armor?” You confirmed. “Amazing. Then maybe you could…” Drew's voice trailed off as he shifted his gaze towards the barred window. Sure, it was worth a shot. Why not try? You grasped two of the bars and pulled in opposite directions. They bent as easily as clay in your hands. You could never hope fit through such a small opening but the wall of bars in your cell was a different matter. You could slip out of your cell, make your way back here, grab Drew, and together go look for an exit. He ought to know the place better. Before you could voice your plan though, you were abruptly interrupted as the gargoyles sprang back to life. The allotted time had passed for treatment. They escorted you back to your cell.
When your jailors departed and all the keep fell still and silent, save for the stone's weeping, you bent the bars of your cell wide and slipped out. You carefully retracted your steps back to collect the man who saved you so many times, to return the favor. But, when you reached the infirmary, you found it empty.