Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Labyrinth

I’m finally back. My absence was mostly unplanned, and I still do not know exactly how much time was lost to me. You see, readers, I've been on quite the journey since you last heard from me. I have decided to chronicle it mostly for the sake of Kal and Henry. From what little I've gathered from their blogs and such they seem to be out and about still. My cellphone is lost and neither of them are online at the moment, so I've decided to write out this story here for them to find. I'm far too tired to wait until morning to message them. They can read this when they wake up tomorrow, when I expect to still be asleep.

It started perhaps half an hour after my final post, the one detailing our little summoning gambit to buy Kal some time. If you recall, I signed off saying I had plans to get epically hammered. That’s a bit uncharacteristic of me, but I’d grown so tired of…Hell, existing that I felt the need to black out some part of my life for some amount of time.

The process of getting drunk is a bit blurry. I can’t tell you much of what happened except that Arkady, though mildly disappointed, decided I deserved the right to erase parts of my life from memory and dealt with it relatively well. The rest is just flashes of color and blurry recollections of various areas of my apartment. Lost in my bacchanalian revelry, I drifted aimlessly about and enjoyed the sweet bliss of thoughtlessness.

So imagine my surprise, then, when everything shifted into focus all at once. One minute I could barely make heads or tales of my own apartment, and the next…everything was put back in its place. My mind was still slow and my reasoning still faulty, mind you. But I wasn’t so far gone to realize just how odd this phenomenon was. Perhaps it was because of this surprising turn of events that I didn’t immediately notice what should have been obvious. The lights in the apartment were all turned off. Only the screen from my laptop provided any illumination into the hallway where I stood. But it was enough to cast a pale light against the white walls around me, where I watched as shadows gradually reached out from the darkness just beyond the computer’s comforting glow. Each one slithered across the wall slowly, glistening with an unclean sheen that made my skin crawl.

“Oh. It’s you.”

What else do you say in a situation like this? He stepped out of the darkness and into the hallway of my room. His thin, empty face turned in my general direction while his eyeless gaze bore holes into my mind. His suit, cleanly pressed, clung to his gaunt frame as the tendrils of shadow slipped out from the openings in his clothing. It was a strange thing to notice, how clean his appearance was in contrast to his slimy alien appendages. But those were the last thoughts that came to mind as I was suddenly thrust into oblivion.

I thought I was dead. I had no reason to believe otherwise. Where once was the long-limbed menace stood in my hallway was absolute stillness. No walls, no glowing screen. Then, warmth and a sudden flash of light. I opened my eyes and found myself alone. I had awoken on a hard wooden floor, which was rather different from my own carpeted apartment. I definitely was not home. Slowly I sat up and looked around at my surroundings. The place was filled with enormous wooden bookshelves twice my height and filled to the brim. There were tables scattered about, interestingly enough with old wax candles lit to provide the only lighting in the building. I scanned the white walls of what I assumed to be a library in search of a window, but found none. Nor did I see any doors. This…was troublesome.

I stood up and shook off the wave of exhaustion that hit me once the shock receded a bit and I became aware of myself again. My limbs ached and my body protested as I gradually trudged my way towards the nearest shelf. I picked a book at random, for no particular reason at all, and pulled it out of the shelf before cracking it open. There were a half dozen different things I was expecting, from a normal book to a book written in an alien language to a book filled with empty pages. What I was not expecting was the Grimoire Verum (link), which I then held in my very sore hands. Confused, I scanned the other books in the shelf. The whole damn thing was lined with occult manuscripts, books on ancient mythology and folk magick, Gnostic scriptures and more! Every single book in that shelf contained some bit of esoteric knowledge. I walked over towards the next shelf, my pain all but forgotten with this sudden reversal of fortunes, and checked the books there as well. Sure enough, more books on the same subject. The library might not have been that large, but there had to be thousands of books here!

I was giddy with excitement for a moment, but quickly composed myself. As unbelievable and fortunate as this was, I was still stuck in a library that seemed to have no exit. I knew better than to waste my time with physical escape since I clearly wasn’t in any place rational. But what I did have was an entire occult arsenal at my disposal, which I reasoned should make breaking out of this place easier. There had to be something in one of these tomes that could at least point me in the right direction. Success was almost certain, I was convinced. At least, I thought I was. Despite being certain I had everything I needed, there was this strange sense of uncertainty in the back of my consciousness. It was almost like a tiny voice whispering into my ear and building a sense of doubt, but doubt in what I wasn’t so sure. There was nothing I could tell myself to allay this wordless fear that gripped the pit of my stomatch.

I sat down at a table and started reading, getting an idea of what approach to take. But all the while, that uncertainty started to slowly fester in my mind. Book after book I devoured over the span of hours, or maybe days, but all the while the sensation of doubt ate away at me. The voice was slowly growing louder, and more pronounced. I decided to chalk it up to exhaustion. By then I had been up and reading for hours, my eyes were hurting, and I could not for the life of me focus on the book. I assumed if Slender Man wanted to come get me then I’d be just as defenseless asleep as I would be in my current dazed state. I crawled up onto a table and tried to drift to sleep, but found it immensely difficult to do so. More than just the doubt, I began to feel as if someone was watching me. I did a cursory walk through the aisles, hoping to catch a glimpse of some phantasm that was disturbing my much needed rest, but found nothing. I climbed back onto the table and tried to fall asleep. It did not come easy.

I woke up a few hours later, dizzy and in more pain. The voice of doubt in my mind had grown worse, and it began to tear at my psyche internally. As I would mull over escape plans in my head I would involuntarily flash to moments of failure, like when Porfiry nearly killed me despite my protective sigil. Or when Slender Man playfully cast aside my wards and stole my own research subject from me. The thought that I might never leave this place crept into my head constantly, no matter how hard I reassured myself that I was perfectly capable of engineering my escape. I picked up a book and tried to ignore it, but it distracted me from my reading which only shook my resolve. I felt like I was suffocating, as if the light of hope was being gradually smothered by an ebony tide of sourceless fear. My hands trembled as I held the book, my frustration nearly uncontrollable now that I was almost paralyzed with doubt. My thoughts led me to Kal and Henry, and the little girl. Where they alright? Did I really save them, or did I just prolongue the inevitable?

And still I felt that strange presence in the deserted library, as if some creature were lurking in the corners of the room and staring at me. I felt like a prisoner being watched over by a guard. That feeling gradually anchored itself in my mind, and slowly I began to see this endless sea of books not as a source of salvation, but as a prison. I aimlessly walked between aisles and started knocking down books from their shelves, kicking them across the room and shouting in frustration. All the while, that cancerous dread that had been building up inside me continued to erode away what little sanity I had left. I mentally directed criticisms at myself about this whole fiasco, everything that had gone wrong since the Slender One entered my life. About the stupid summoning plan to disprove his existence, about the sigils and nearly being killed by Porfiry. About how my books and research amounted to nothing. It was like I was shouting at myself within my own mind.

“Well, great job there kiddo. Look what you’ve gotten yourself into? An entire fucking arsenal of arcane knowledge and all you can do is impotently shout like a wild animal trapped in a cage.”

“God, you’re pathetic. Call yourself a Thelemite? If you’re so fucking smart, why aren’t you out of here yet?”

“You think you saved Kal? You can’t even save yourself. They’re dead. You’re dead. You’re all fucking dead and you don’t even know it yet.”

“You gave that stupid little girl hope when you saved her, only to have it taken away when Slender Man finally kills her. Who’s the monster now?”

“Just give up. Kill yourself and be spared the embarrassment.”

“Yeah, why don’t you kill yourself you worthless dog? You’ll never amount to anything.”

The sharp tone of the comments finally snapped something inside me. A something that made me realize in that entire moment of hopelessness and dread, that those criticisms weren’t just imaginary accusations. They were voices. Real fucking voices. In my head.

I fell to my knees, clutching my head and screaming to drown out the talking, but no matter how hard I screamed the voices were there, drowning out all sound but the corrosive venom they continued to spew.

“You can’t shut me up! You can’t shut me up! You can’t do anything! You’re fucking stupid! Keep covering your ears, see if that does any good! Scream like a child, a stupid little child!”

A splitting headache erupted through my head. It felt like my brains were pouring out of a gigantic crack in my skull. I lost my sight, my feeble brain trying to continue functioning against the horrific wave of stimulus beating itself against my consciousness.

And then the pain stopped. Everything. My sight was restored, and I saw the floor right beneath me where I had curled up to hide from the pain. I relaxed my breathing down to compose myself. The voices were gone. Everything seemed quiet. I waited, perhaps for a few minutes. And then I slowly lifted my head up, hoping to the gods that I had just woken up from some awful dream. But I hadn’t. I was still in the same stupid library, sitting on the same stupid wooden floor, lost in the same stupid aisles of books. But I was not alone. Before me stood a creature, the one I knew had been watching me this entire time. It sat atop a gargantuan monster easily as tall as an individual bookshelf, with sharp tusks, menacing eyes, and covered in fur. The creature was humanoid, but with three heads. That of a man, of a bull, and of a ram. The center head, the human head, bore a crown with an esoteric sigil upon it. Its outstretched leathery wings were poised behind it, immobile as it stared down at me from its enormous height. I looked up at it, all too familiar with the beast that gazed down upon me.



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