A Dance with the Reaper: Part Two
Aleksei had grown tired of walking down the middle of the hall, so he went on the other side of the right row of columns so he could look out the monolithic windows. They stretched from the floor and went up at least fifty metres, culminating in a gothic arch. Each window also had a balcony which extended in a half circle, four metres out. He had gone out on one, but all that could be seen was endless mist. So, he continued walking. It could have been hours, even days, he did not know. He never felt tired, hungry, or any other primal need.
Somewhere along his trek, he realised that the hall had been getting narrower. He assumed that meant it must come to an end. Then something broke the monotony. The walls curved outwards into a circle. The windows were now only split by thin columns, and in all directions, they looked out at the grey mist. But it was what lay in the centre of the area that captivated him. A pyramid of seven square slabs, and at the top were seven stone seats, all facing outwards.
He ventured up the first two steps, being wary of his surroundings, wondering whose chairs these were. He made it to the third step, when the light brightened. He looked out between the columns, to see the mist clearing. Poking out through the white masses was what looked to be the tops of thousands of winding, leafy trees.
“Whoa!” was the only sound he could utter.
The Messenger and Aleksei found themselves in a stand-off, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Aleksei’s mouth twitched into a slight grin. The water to his left swirled and hissed ominously, wisps of fog rising in a ring.
The Messenger inched its hand closer to its tranquiliser gun.
Aleksei threw his left hand out as a roaring sound filled the room. The mist on the lake spun furiously, becoming a massive, twisting column. It bent toward The Messenger, its end opening like the gaping mouth of a snake about to swallow a rat. The roar became a shriek, as the tempest charged forward.
The Messenger leapt back. The dock where it had just been standing erupted in a storm of splintering wood. The mist bounced off of the dock, changing its direction, and pursued it, like a hungry dragon.
The Messenger bent its knees, waiting for the last moment. Just as the speeding tempest was about to engulf it, it leapt high into the air, its head just missing the ceiling. It raised its gun and fired a dart at Aleksei’s unguarded body.
From the corner of its eye, it saw the stationary wing-shadow bend in on itself. The dart stopped mid-air, something invisible having blocked its course.
Falling towards Aleksei, The Messenger prepared to make an attack from above. But to its distress, the boy met it mid-air. With his leg extended, Aleksei struck The Messenger’s gut. Turning, Aleksei cast it diagonally with incredible force. The dark figure hit the water with a loud ‘smack!’ and skid across the surface until it hit the opposite dock. It clambered out of the frigid water, slightly relieved that the cold had numbed the pain of its battered ribs. It turned to see Aleksei staring at it haughtily from the opposite dock. The shadow of the wing again spread across the wall.
“Don’t think we are finished with you yet!” the voices warned.
Before The Messenger could react, the wing had bent in a flapping motion, and Aleksei skipped over the water, bridging the gap between them in a blink of an eye. The boy placed his hand on The Messenger’s chest, pushing it alongside him as he continued to speed forward. The Messenger felt its back smash into a pallet leaning against the wall, the wood snapping from the force.
The Messenger gasped in pain, turning its head to Aleksei’s face. It saw a cruel, maniacal grin staring back at it, and for the briefest moment it was not the face of the boy, but of a stunning woman, with eyes of blue lightning under raven eyebrows, and skin as pale as summer clouds. It coughed up blood, spraying scarlet specks onto the woman’s flawless skin. When it finished its spasms, the boy was normal again.
Aleksei stood up, turning his back on his wounded enemy and walked away. He had gone about seven metres when he stopped, and fell down. The room seemed to lighten, and the air lost the supernatural weight and foreboding. The boy seemed weary and tired as if gravity had increased, and was pressing him to the dock.
The messenger stood painfully, seeing that its prey had fallen. Despite its agony, it ran and leapt.
Crimson blood spattered and sprayed over Mashka’s face. Her hand was pierced through by the kunai, and the tip was just millimetres from her slit pupil.
Anya’s face was the picture of shock. Never before had she fought someone so willing to endure so much pain, to avoid death. Even more shocking was Mashka’s defiant grin, as blood continued to flow from the wound in her hand.
With a bestial shriek, she forced her stabbed hand further down the knife, to grab Anya’s and pulled her in. Then with a breathy hiss, she slammed their foreheads together.
Anya tumbled back, as stars and blotches filled her vision. Meanwhile Mashka, supporting herself by her hands, kicked out with both feet, sending Anya flying back, and smacking into the side of a yacht.
Once she got back on her feet, Anya looked up, her vision blurry, to see a bloody fist hurtling towards her face.
The young man touched the cold stone of the pearl white chair.
“That’s my seat.”
He whirled around to see a beautiful young woman, about his age, with waist-length, raven black hair, that seemed to wrap her in a satin mantel. She was clothed in a white, high-necked shirt, over which she wore an equally white, long-sleeved shrug, with electric blue hems and cuffs. Her skirt was heavily pleated and descended to her boot-clad ankles. Over its length, it started out white at the waist, and flowed into a rich, royal blue at the bottom.
“Who are you?” Aleksei asked, “And where is this?”
“It’s proper etiquette to introduce yourself first, upon intruding on another’s home.” She scolded him, raising her neon blue eyes to his muddy ones. She smiled and spoke kindly, “But I will let it slide, this time. I am Nida Ixela.”
“Aleksei Yakovich Sharov, pleased to meet you. But again I ask, where am I? Am I dead?” Aleksei tried hard to sound composed, and not reveal his nervousness.
“Does this empty place look like heaven to you?” she asked patronizingly.
“Well,” he replied, “no.”
A bubbly laugh escaped her, as she said, “Then you need not be concerned whether you live.”
“Very well, so where is this?” Aleksei was growing irritated at the girl’s indirectness.
“It is nowhere but somewhere, it exists and yet it does not, you can touch it yet it has no physical form. I could go on with the paradoxes, if you like.” she flashed a smug smile.
He sighed in exasperation, as he walked down the steps towards her. “I’m going to look for someone who’s less cryptic. There are seven seats, so there must be someone else here.” He began to walk back down the hall he had come from.
She rolled her eyes and called after him, “If you really must know, I am your repha. A few select Jinn are blessed with our presence. You happen to be one of them.”
Aleksei stopped and turned, an uneasy feeling sinking into his gut. “What do you mean by that? Are you like a guardian angel or something?”
“No, don’t be preposterous! I am you, well, another facet of you. I am the reason we have a connection to our power. I live within you. Together we make an ‘us.’”
“You called yourself a repha. Am I wrong to assume that is like the Hebrew word rapha?”
She smiled, causing Aleksei’s heart to sink. “How very perceptive.” she said.
“Rapha can be translated as ‘the dead’ but can also mean ‘shade’, ‘presence’ or poetically refer to the place of the dead, Sheol.”
“Correct, however I believe I fit best with your third definition, as I am neither dead, nor am I a separate being.”
“So you are me?”
She nodded, “We are us.”
“So is this my mind?” he asked.
She smiled, and replied, “Yes, and no.”
Aleksei sighed dejectedly, at her continued vagueness.
She came towards him, as she explained, “This place is called 'Inverse' however we are out of time. I will give you back our body, for now, but do not forget me.” She passed him, leaving a chill in his bones. “Because, if you forget me, our next meeting will not be so pleasant.”
Aleksei heard pounding feet, and rolled over to see The Messenger leap towards him. By reflex, he moved his arm forward to guard himself. What he did not notice, was the narrow stream of vapour he had caused to rise from the water. It moved into the small space between Aleksei and The Messenger, curving like The Reaper’s blade. Then it zipped upwards, making an intense shrieking sound, as it sliced into The Messenger’s abdomen. Blood sprayed back on Aleksei’s arm and face.
He screamed in unison with the falling figure, one in pain, the other in surprise and fear. The Messenger briefly landed on top of Aleksei but he shoved it off and scooted backwards against the wall.
“Ar-are you alright?” he stammered.
The Messenger’s eye turned towards him. “Do you think I am? And what isss with the ssshift in attitude?”
“I, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Last thing I remember was you were-, but I was… and then…” Aleksei shook his head, unsure about what had happened. “The next thing I know is you’re above me and blood started spraying!” Aleksei yelled, befuddled. He grimaced at the feeling of the warm droplets on his face and hurriedly tried to wipe them off.
The Messenger chuckled ruefully, “How odd, you were a ruthlesss fighter just momentsss ago. I don’t know what happened either, but just asss I was about to knock you out, something came over you. It was asss if...” The Messenger coughed.
“As if what?” Aleksei asked, wanting it to continue.
“Asss if sssomeone elssse took control, asss if we were not alone. And now here you are, looking on me with sssuch pathetic consssern in your eyesss.”
Aleksei rose, surprised at the immense weariness that shook his frame, “I need to be going. Are you sure that you are alright?” he asked.
Aleksei waited a moment for an answer, but none was forth coming. So he walked away, his arms shaking.
“You’re just going to go?” The Messenger calmly asked.
Aleksei stayed his stride and looked back in surprise and confusion.
“After all,” it continued, its raspy voice slithering from under its hood, which had stubbornly remained in place, “If you let me live, I’ll jussst come after you again, and all thisss will ssstart over. Would it not be easier for you to kill me?”
Aleksei did not answer for a moment. His face came from showing his horror at such a suggestion then turned thoughtful, as if considering his answer. At last he spoke, “I don’t see why I would kill you, you have not tried to kill me, or my sister. Killing you now, would be no less than murder for the sake of convenience.”
The Messenger surprised itself by finding strength to laugh, “Sssuch idealsss--” The Messenger snapped. “--are not practical for sssomeone who will forever live on the run, becaussse the fatesss gave you power. It’sss foolissshnessss.”
“What’s right is often foolish.” Aleksei replied. “But God made foolish the wisdom of the world, so the wise be fools and the fools be wise.”
“Ssso, not just naïve, you believe the imaginary.” The Messenger pushed itself up into a sitting position. "A word of advissse, cassst assside prinsssiples if you want to live.”
Aleksei shook his head, “Trying to avert the immediate danger by doing something wrong only succeeds in postponing trouble. Eternity is my judge; I fear God far more than I fear you or your decrepit master!"
Aleksei turned and walked away, manipulating the water in the air to become his sensory field, as he opened the door and left.
“Pure ssstupidity,” The Messenger hissed.