Fallen Castle (Pt.3)

”For all I have given you, the world I have led you into... and this is how you repay me?”

The dark figure towered over her in hateful, horrifying presence. Its limbs refused to adopt a solid state of appearance, but maintained the illusion of thin and bony surface, the fingers ending in sharp claws, each perhaps as long as she was. The head was formless, a silhouette of smoke and death, bearing no mouth to speak through, or eyes to see her by, yet its voice washed over her as a thunderous call, and she was certain it saw her more clearly than she saw it, and remained fixated as she fell to her feet.

The rest of it, from mid-torso down, seemed to crash against the dreamscape earth that was neither soil, sand, nor rock, but in flux between the three as her focus failed to address it. She couldn’t bring herself to look about either, as if transfixed like a camera on the wretched thing of smoke and anger, her sight prevailing here at last as some inner form radiated malice and hate. Seeing it, she almost wished her sight had stayed dormant in this awful nightmare.

Other voices bombarded her, distant and indecipherable, almost inane, with the odd words coming through, broken up by radio static and screams. She knew them, and yet didn’t at the same time, as if they were memories or records filtered through the same atrocious filter that gave her the horrible apparition before her.

The thing leant forward, the monstrous hands shaking the ground as they landed to either side of her. ”You have failed, in every endeavor to turn a tide that cannot be turned. What more must you lose before you bend? Before you break? Before you learn…?”

She wanted to run, to scream, to scramble away at maximum speed as she’s done before when caught under fire from the enemy. Her dreaming body ignored her, refusing to even give her the mercy of looking away, or turning her back over to the waking world.

”What more must you endure before you accept the truth?” the thing's dark and hideous voice rolled through her. Its face came within several feet of her, glaring even though clearly featureless. ”When will you finally allow your light to fade… and become darkness?”

Sharon woke to find herself already kneeling, her waking body having recovered her rifle and aiming into empty space under the glow of firelight, soaked in sweat that was already beginning to freeze her to the bone.

Under the mental impact of her nightmare, she fell back on her makeshift bed, unsure if it was frightful tears or icy beads of sweat that ran down her cheeks. To her right, she could see Casey, buried under blankets as if nothing had happened at all.

Casey had gone out hard, falling asleep in an armchair that was still serviceable and clean of bugs, at least as best either of them could tell. Sharon had taken time to find blankets, which she prioritized for her lighter and less acclimated frame. A few had remained tucked away in a crawlspace and preserved in a sealed plastic crate, along with a few pillows probably meant for overnight guests. Her own setup had been to lay a few on the floorboards near the fire, then sandwich herself with a few more. She even had a pillow, a proper pillow, rather than her pack, which of course was now soaked through, as were the blankets.

She set the rifle aside and wiped her face clear. Sleep had been elusive the last few days, but the nightmares that kept her eyes open and awake were only half of it. She couldn’t sleep having so much to process, to try and plan, to weigh and consider from between a few hours to a few days, all the way out to years from now. Before, when she was at base, when they had a base, she had purpose, direction, a command element to tell her where to be and what to do with a long-term goal in mind.

Now, all she had was a vague idea of what she wanted and no plan for accomplishing it. No team to fight for or besides, no commanders to spend hours meticulously planning while she and her team executed. No direction. Just herself, a rifle, and a slowly improving victim of the waking nightmare that LexCorp had cultivated and covered up.

And only three hours of sleep to work on.

She removed her drenched clothes and laid them out, feeding the fire new fuel and bringing heat and warmth back to her skin. Seeing as Casey was fast asleep, Sharon did a hot swap of her underclothes as well, adopting yoga pants and a tank top as her external layers.

Hours crept by, or so it felt, her watch claiming only twenty or so minutes had passed. She was eventually dry and warm again and found herself up and pacing. The library that served as their room had a few other features, asides from the obvious of what must have once been hundreds of books where the shelves were now empty. A grand piano remained in working order to her surprise, but the grandfather clock of elegant make had long since broke, its hands now only reading twenty forty eight, which was a shame since she’d have enjoyed the background sound of its ticking away compared to the sullen silence that enveloped the Manor.

It was so silent in fact, her own breathing seemed to echo through the dusty halls, giving the illusion of a presence that did nothing but put her on edge. She wanted to chalk it all up to her nightmares, and the blindness she suffered from now, but given they were in fact still technically being hunted, she still had to consider the chance they were being watched. What was the old saying, ‘it isn’t paranoid if its true'? Something close to that. Given the choice between LexCorp soldiers kicking in the doors and coming in through the windows or the thing of her dreams, she’d happily take the former.

Didn’t change the fact that the silence was oppressive.

Sharon checked her watch, another ten minutes had crept by. It was fruitless, and she had all of nothing to do. She fell into the bench for the piano, and gave the keys a small test, letting her fingers pick and choose their path, finding the keys that were out of tune thanks to year of neglect. Boredom drove her to action, and she found herself bringing the piano from operational to finely polished once more, testing notes and wires to pass the time. It accomplished an hour of time passing, and she was soon able to play soft and simple melodies, turning the silence away.

She didn’t have too much direction in her music, playing what sounded natural like she once had under the ice. It rose with tempo and complexity with each minute passing, until she heard the soft padding of feet touch the ground and stroll over to her, Casey taking a seat on the side of the bench. They said nothing to each other as she played, letting her fingers dance across the keys. It was soothing, actually, to finally be doing something not related to their survival.

She brought her natural play to a close, and let a song out from her memory, recalling it in both voice and key, the slow and soft melody taking hold for the next almost five minutes. When she closed, she found Casey leaning on her shoulder, fast asleep again. Could she really blame her? She let another loose, and then another, filling the Manor with song until her voice grew tired and she returned to natural play. She met her goal and exceeded it, her play taking them well into the morning.

Casey was still asleep when it happened, of course that changed in an instant. Her fingers danced across the keys, and she must have struck something right, or perhaps very wrong, as the grandfather clock suddenly chimed a deep and rumbling sound, creaking on hidden machines as it swung aside to reveal a dark hole on the other side.

It scared the hell out of her, so much so she leapt back from the door across the small bench, half falling off of it as she scrambled to her feet, her DE 50 coming into hand. Casey had the misfortune of falling entirely as her support took to action, and soon scrambled behind Sharon as she waited with barrel on the hole.

“What happened?” she whispered, creeping up her back to peek at the dark space.

Sharon waited, staring as if to challenge it to spit forth something from the abyss. “Don’t know. Casey, I’ve got you covered, grab the rifle.”

“What?”

Sharon pointed without looking back to the HK resting on the floor. It was as big a risk having her handle it as handing her the Eagle, but less than taking her eye off the hole for even a moment.

Casey carefully slipped away from her and grabbed the rifle, clearly afraid herself of the weapon. Without speaking, she holstered the pistol and took the rifle from her, lining up down the sights.

“Okay…” she thought for a moment. “Grab one of the chair legs, tear a strip of blanket, wrap it around one end., then light it.”

Casey followed her instructions, all kept under general speaking volume.

“Okay, lets clear the hole.”

Sharon led the way as they descended into the darkness, torch held high behind her.

The hole proved to be a spiral staircase, one that hadn’t been used in a very long time. It delved deep, and for a while she tried to count the steps but eventually lost track somewhere in the triple digits. There were electric lights, but of course the damage had reduced them to little more than aesthetic memory that this stairwell had been built with clear intent.

They delved even deeper, darkness lingering before and behind them where the light of their torch couldn’t reach. It was then she really, really wished she had the chance to charge her NODs.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of descent, they exited the spiraling descent into a vast, open space of darkness, the dying flames of their torch reaching out only maybe twenty feet or so before falling into the void. The ground was flat though, and judging by the scuffs her boots made, paved with sheet metal more than several inches thick.

Casey whispered something to the effect of amazement, but it escaped her lips only as a breath of excitement. It was certainly the last thing Sharon expected to find.

“Alright, I think this is all clear, lets get topside before our light dies out,” Sharon said, careful not to have her voice too loud as to echo off the apparent walls far beyond their field of view. If and when they found batteries, or if there was lighting down here she could find, she would most certainly be back.

They turned, and for the second time received an terrifying fright.

The entryway they had come through had a door, which as they turned, slammed shut with a massive bang. Sinewy white veins or roots grew across it, and more travelled at sprinting pace towards them. Sharon immediately turned the rifle on the sudden growth, though she suddenly had the terrified feeling that she was in yet another nightmare, and had walked right into the jaws of that thing that had plagued her. Casey was screaming in her ear, only adding to the noise that her rifle made as she discharged round after round, sparks flying off the floor as bullets ricocheted red hot into the blackness, sending white matter into the air with every impact.

Her aim was thrown as Casey fell against her, the torch falling from her hand as she screamed, disappearing into the dark, taken by some unknown thing that now besieged them.

Sharon screamed for her and cursed the dark with every shot, dropping magazine and reloading as a furious machine of war. She fired again and again, until the flames finally died and she felt the veins crawl over her, removing her rifle and binding her in absolute darkness. She continued to scream in rage and fury, until the veins covered her mouth and silenced her.

It wasn’t more than a moment before she saw light, and in the moment thought herself dead for certain.

Instead, the light was accompanied by the clacking of industrial processes as ceiling lights came to life, illuminating the entirety of the cavern. She was upside down, completely bound in white veiny roots as it were, which descended in a mass from the ceiling. In her peripheral, she was fairly certain she saw Casey, suffering the same fate.

“Well… well… well…” a female voice punctuated the air, “What have we got here? A couple of Luthor's undercover posing as squatters in Wayne Manor?”

Back on the floor, a woman dressed in plain clothes, a leather jacket worn over a white tee and jeans, her hair a close red to Sharon’s, but not quite like her own. Her skin however was her most striking feature, green as new growth in spring, with a darker shade for lips. She stepped forward a few paces and leaned on a table they hadn’t seen in the dark.

“Of course, that would imply your actually being competent and bringing a small army to storm this place… which you obviously didn’t,” she comments, “which leads me to believe you might… might… be someone else. Just not who I happen to be looking for.”

She waits expectantly with a rather smug expression as Sharon is lowered by the hundreds of vine tendrils reaching down from the ceiling, still gagged by the flora brought to life. “So tell me,” she coos, drawing her nail down her chin, “Where’s the Batman?”

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