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Child of the Starlight

Chapter Text

[ Johannes’ POV ]

A figure stood in the distance, the gentle tide rolling over his bare feet. I had followed his footsteps through the sand, a cool wind blowing my hair against my face. His blue eyes were to the horizon, the crystalline surface of the calm waters reflecting the swirling clouds and orange and violet hues of the darkening sky as Mother Owl brought the night to our Kingdom.

The King’s dreadlocked hair whipped in the quickening breeze like licks of golden flame, draped in a scarlet cloak fringed in shimmering black feathers. The expression on his bearded face was solemn, his sword glinting in the fading dusk in one trembling hand.

A storm was heading our way, black clouds billowing towards us from the north. A fire burned dimly within the looming darkness, bursts of red lightning and a malevolent sentience snaring out like barbed wire from its depths as it barreled towards the shoreline.

I called out to him amidst the sound of thunder, and he turned his head towards me as I approached. A small smile reached the warrior's lips, emanating a kind warmth that I would never feel again. His azure eyes were lined sharply in khol and glittering with sorrow, and yet he never cast aside his warrior’s composure as his gloved hand reached for mine.

The sky began to scream, the swirling blackness twisting through the atmosphere, choking the color from the sky like an infection sucking the life from its host. I could hear my name drifting from the eye of the storm, a low, resonant growl that echoed through my mind. My legs felt as if they'd collapse as I ran towards my King, my heart pounding in my ears as the void began to laugh.

I fell to the sand beneath me, but it wasn't the cool, fine grains I'd tread on not moments before, but hard and littered with jagged shards. I lifted my head to the ugly, tremulous expanse above me, the sun never to touch my face again as it was swallowed forever. The water had become black as ink, the tide rolling in faster and steam rose from its bubbling surface. I knew I had to get away, flee before the sea boiled me alive, but The King was gone. Something glinted faintly at the shoreline, black waters rolling over something gold and splattered in crimson.

I could feel the tears welling, choking back a scream. The ground cut my hands as I struggled to my feet, an ominous chill creeping through my bones as the earth began to tremble. Amidst the lustful howl of the raging storm, the cries of a thousand crows tore through the air from the epicenter, their wings glittering like many black blades as they ripped through the air.

I felt something curl around my legs, spined barbs slicing through the fabric of my pants and twisting up my calves. I kicked at whatever had seized me, fighting to free myself and yet I could not bear the thought of what I might see if I turned my head.

The grip around my legs only tightened, slithering further up my body as hundreds of tiny, curving blades pierced my flesh. I howled in pain, coppery warmth spilling from my wounds. The sickly stench of rotten flesh assaulted my nostrils, skeletal claws twisting in my long hair. There was a crushing weight on my back, the sensation of dozens of pointed, yellowed teeth against my neck. And despite the fear paralyzing me to the cold, dead sand, I had to see the face of my killer.

Slowly, I turned my head. The gnarled fingers in my hair relaxed their hold, sliding down my neck almost sensually before wrapping around my throat. The red glow of those eyes held me in place, every thought, every secret, he read them like an open book. I was barely aware of the tears rolling down my face, my hatred overpowering my grief as I gazed into the abyss.

He smiled through many rows of teeth, a skeletal grimace framed by a mane of wild chestnut and wearing a crown of jagged obsidian. His grip around my throat tightened.

“Rise and shine, Johannes!”

---

The sudden snap of my neck tore me from the wastelands of the desolate beach and boiling black ocean, and I woke with a scream. I moved to sit upright, but my arms were tightly bound to the bed. I lay on my back momentarily, the fluorescent light flickering dimly above chasing the last nightmare vestiges of shadows from my subconscious. I heard myself whimper, my vision blurry as I began to remember where I was.

There were no windows here, no clock to tell me the time of day. The room was small and painted in a sickly shade of green that reminded me of vomit. I had begun to catalog the length of my stay at Brookhaven in notebooks scattered amidst my poetry, but the days and nights blurred together in a perpetual pharmaceutical stupor they forced upon me. For the last three days, I had been strapped to this bed, the leather straps too tight around my wrists.

I was aware of another presence in the room, snapping my head in the direction of the shadowed figure standing over me. My eyes widened, thinking I saw the pale fire burning in those eyes, then my lip curled angrily as the orderly’s face drifted into focus.

“Time to wake up, sunshine.” The orderly sneered. I noticed the bandage on his nose, my own handiwork from days earlier when I wasn't confined to my bed, and I smiled.

The greasy little man flinched as I lunged towards him, only as far as my restraints would allow. I would have loved nothing more than to break the bastard’s neck for what he had done, stealing my poetry and strapping me to this fucking bed!

“You had a visitor this morning...” the little man said coolly, a gleeful edge to his voice as he said this. A hand was hovering above the taser he kept clipped to his belt, however.“Because of your little tantrum, we had to turn her away. She had this for you, though...” He held a manilla folder in his hand, and my heart sank when I realized what it was.

“You little…” I felt the snarl rising in my throat, rage flooding to the surface as the desire to finish what I'd started overcame me. He stood there with a smug grin, watching me struggle against my restraints. The leather straps had been stretched from my many nights here alone with my nightmares, and the folder in his hand, no doubt holding divorce paperwork, promised an eternity of solitude. I promised myself that I would tear him apart with my bare hands.

- - -

[ Three days earlier… ]

“I'll be nice to you if you're nice to me…” He'd whispered in my ear, making sure to check the darkened corridor before closing the door behind us. I couldn't move, my senses a muddled slurry from the the new medication. My vision swam in and out of focus, barely aware that I was standing in a tiny utility closet with the fat little orderly whom I'd only seen making rounds at night.

My arms hung limp at my side, my mouth dry and unable to protest as I felt him push me against the shelves. I stood a good head over the man, peering down at his balding pate. He was touching my hair, twirling the inky black strands around a finger. I swatted at the hand as if it were a fly, only to be greeted by a wave of vertigo.

“Woah, woah… Don't want to hurt yourself there…” I heard him say, but his voice was muted, as if drifting from behind a wall on another plane of existence. I wished I were elsewhere, anywhere but here as I felt hands drift to my shoulders, pushing me down to my knees. I blinked up at him dumbly, tilting my head as I saw his hands drop to his belt.

Before I could comprehend what was happening, a shadow in my periphery caught my wavering attention, its long, skeletal fingers reaching out to me from the darkness. A sound escaped my lips as a hand reached down to grip my jaw roughly. The gnarled claw pointed, and then I was awake, my stupor washed away in a wave of sudden, violent clarity.

The man was on the floor before he or even I could blink. I saw myself standing over him, relishing the sharp scent of copper, blood dripping down my forehead in warm rivulets. He was pathetic, squealing like a pig in agony as his nose spurted crimson through his pudgy hands. My expression was calm, unfaltering as I turned to leave.

I didn't take more than five steps from the utility closet before I felt 1500 volts coursing through me at once. The tile came rushing towards me then, and the empty nothing was a blessed relief compared to what waited after. The next morning, I woke strapped to a hospital bed with a pounding headache and a pending assault charge.

The orderly had been quick to claim I had attacked him unprovoked, and no one thought to consider the defense of a violent psychopath…

- - -

“Your white knight isn't coming from the future to save you, Sarah Connor. Now, are we going to play nice?” His tone was snide, making sure I saw the taser again before unfastening the restraints around my wrists and ankles. There was bruising from my previous struggles, and as much as I would have loved to leap up smash his tiny head against the cold tile, I hugged my knees to my chest and simply glared.

“Touch me again and I'll bite it off.” I hissed, absently rubbing at the purple lesions on my bony wrists, which suddenly looked thinner than I remembered.

“Looks like I'm all you've got now, pretty boy.” I kept my hands at my chest, my fingers longing to write even when no words came. The orderly sniggered, and I suddenly imagined myself writing songs amidst his corpse. “Pussy ass rockstars… Doc says you gotta eat or else you get another night here.”

I eyed him suspiciously. The food here was rancid, poisoned with the cocktail of drugs they fed us at the med station every morning and evening, flies buzzing and infestations growing even though they insisted over and over nothing was wrong. They'd sent me here before, when I warned the others of worms and insects crawling through our plates, force fed to us by sadists. The orderly rolled his eyes.

“Unless you want another three nights with just you and yours truly, get your skinny ass out of here, Eckerström.”

My bones creaked and ached as I stood, the muscles weak from being tied down. The fluorescent white light spilling into my room seemed too bright, the astringent stench of industrial disinfected and shit overpowering. I was vaguely aware of the little bastard looking me up and down as I hesitated, overcome by an incomprehensible fear.

I remembered a time when I ran through the trees cloaked in the shroud of night, the Owl Mother keeping watch under Her many glittering eyes. I heard the sound of hooves galloping through fields that stretched through the ages, where there was no slavery of animal or man and we lived in perfect symbiosis, the fertile soil ensuring that no living thing would go hungry. Corruption and greed had been slain by the King’s hand…

Now as I found myself sitting at a cold, steel table in the commissary across from a mousy woman muttering conspiracy theories under her breath, I questioned the reality of waking to this fresh hell of enforced sterility and empty motivational quotes everyday. The insects were beginning to appear under a wedge of lettuce on my plate, squirming and multiplying before my very eyes as they began surging across the table. My stomach churned, and I drifted elsewhere.

I remembered the palace, a glittering monolith of twisting spires and colorful glass standing before the sea. There were grand balls held in checkered halls draped in scarlet and gold, rainbows of feathers and silk swirling and merging together while fireworks illuminated the night. I sang the people songs of triumph and tragedy, the music coursing through me like an electric current…

The silence was painful. I turned my head towards the old piano that sat in the corner, the top locked as an attempt to deter patients from disturbing the peace, or so they said. My fingers moved along to sheet music I saw in my mind. My heart ached to hear the music again, those haunting melodies keeping me alive until my King came back for me.

That night, I dreamt of towers...

[ TO BE CONTINUED... ]

Chapter Text

Child of the Starlight - Chapter 2

- - -

He was a living work of art, an organic tapestry depicting beast and machine interwoven together amidst twisting runes. I trailed my fingers along his inked flesh, feeling toned muscle and old scars now painted over with stories of his reign.

His bearded face brushed my neck, his tongue at my jaw. His hands were rough, calloused by years in battle wielding his Axe as they found mine. I sang songs of his glory, acting as his scribe as I brought my King’s words to his people. And for my loyalty, he rewarded me generously.

I was screaming his name as he held me against the bed, our fingers clasped together as he ravaged me. My legs were wrapped around his lean frame, and I admired the tribal striations branching down his lean chest. His dreadlocked hair brushed my face, a lion’s mane of woven gold hanging over his tattooed shoulders. I had waited so long for his return, and now I welcomed him home with open arms.

His kiss was possessive, his tongue clashing against mine. I had fought beside him many times in battle and now I was his to conquer. I relished every second, my warrior King smirking triumphantly as he took me harder.

I closed my eyes, shivering at the enticing snarl in his voice, his sweat slicked skin sliding against mine. I wanted for nothing then, riding those crescending waves of ecstasy in the safety of his embrace and begging him never to stop.

I told him that I loved him, that I belonged to him. He didn't respond, lifting a hand to curl his fingers in my damp black hair. I felt a chill run through me, an icy sense of dread trickling into my subconscious despite the blissful sensations bringing me closer and closer to climax.

I felt five sharp points, cold and sharp as blades dragging gently across the flesh of my neck. I gasped, but before I could open my eyes, I felt his lips against mine again, so cold and smooth...

I whimpered, seeing only a glimpse of smoldering red as he left me suddenly. A resonant growl rumbled from deep in his throat before I was flipped onto my stomach. Disoriented, I tried turning my head, tried crying out, but then those clawed hands clamped over my hips and he plunged into me again.

I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came. I could feel his hair against my back, soft waves like a cemetery mist drifting across my skin. Large taloned hands were holding me down like an animal and I didn't dare to resist.

“No one touches you but me…” I heard his voice, nothing like the commanding yet gentle tone of my King’s, but a rasping hiss that paralyzed me with fear. “Do you understand?”

Amidst gasping breaths, I inquired the phantom visitor’s name. His teeth were sharp enough to rend flesh from bone, the wicked points of his canines drifting gingerly along the nape of my neck. I moaned weaky, and yet I wanted for him to consume me, brutalize me again and again. I tried pushing myself up, had to see his face...

“You already know my name, Johannes…” he growled, pushing my face back into the sheets. A hand slithered down my spine, curling around my waist. “I've always been there, waiting for you at the precipice of sleep, whispering to you from that empty, dark room at night, your shadow on the wall…” He gripped me suddenly, his other hand still keeping me from collapsing beneath him. I did scream then, the assault of sensations bringing me to the edge of reason.

The reptilian screech that tore from his mouth as he pulled me against him stayed with me through many nights after, one that made part of me wish for a death that never came. I reached behind my head, touching silky waves and and smooth skin that was cold as stone. He came violently, my body shuddering around him.

“It won't be long now, my pet. I know they lie to you, that they torture you… I can see that you are suffering so deeply…” His nose was in my hair, inhaling deeply as he spoke. I moaned again, intoxicated by his cruel touch as he pumped me faster. “And your pain is so beautiful…”

Every nerve in my body was screaming in an exquisite inferno of pleasure and pain, and I surrendered. I had known this creature in another time, his name like in an old dream lying dormant in the dark. There was nothing left for me but a sentence of cold, empty walls in a sea of broken spirits. Mother Owl had abandoned me in this fucking prison, and so had my King…

“I am your King now…” He whispered.

- - -

I was awake with a scream, my hair a sweat-soaked mess in my face as I fell to the hard linoleum tile beside my narrow bed. I winced, almost breathing a sigh of relief when the puke green walls swam into focus, the occasional sob or wail drifting from behind the locked door leading into the hall. I smiled groggily, realizing that whether I was here, dreaming or dead, I was in Hell.

I sat up slowly, taking a cautious glance around the room for hungry teeth and glimmering eyes. I heard the click of approaching footsteps, watching the shadows that drifted to and fro in the tiny sliver of light beneath the door frame. I hugged my arms around myself, flinching as blinding fluorescence spilled into my room. I could still feel the ache in my muscles, shrouded in a heavy drowsiness as if I'd never slept at all.

“Rise and shine, Eckerström. You have a visitor.”

- - -

I could see Henrik’s leg bouncing nervously as I walked through the swinging doors into the visiting area. My former bandmate was sitting beneath a poster of a tabby kitten dangling precariously from a tree branch, the printed slogan of “Hang In There!” making the situation even more difficult.

He looked well, his auburn hair tied back in a neat ponytail and an expression that was both warm and pensive when he saw me. I forced my most convincing smile as I pulled the long sleeves of my shirt further down my bruised wrists.

“I- I didn't think you'd come…” I said softly as I sat across from him, painfully aware that I looked like shit at the moment, my blonde roots prominent in a scraggly mess of black hair and my clothes too big. Henrik was looking at my hands sadly, thin and covered with the scarring wounds from before I was admitted here.

He seemed to consider this a moment, and probably against his better judgement, reached for my hands with his. I jerked them away suddenly.

“I'm… I'm so sorry Jo.” Henrik said softly, a deep sadness in his kind, blue eyes. “I’m so sorry about everything. I… er, I heard about Pa-”

“I don't want to talk about it, Henrik…” I said with an edge to my voice, feeling more vulnerable than I ever had before, even without one of my oldest friends reminding me of everything I'd lost.

I heard the chitinous scuttling of many insect legs in the hospital walls, the vibrations resonating inside my skull until it ached. I stared up into the ceiling, trying desperately to will it away.

“That's okay…” Henrik sighed. “Look, I've been talking to John and the others. The hiatus is still indefinite, but… we are all here for you.”

“Yeah?” I couldn't help the snide tone that came to my voice. “How could you… after what I did?”

I didn't remember anything except for what police, doctors and psychiatrists had told me, and yet I knew there had been something else, an ancient influence beyond the realm of understanding by these so-called professionals… Then again, I wouldn't have even believed myself just months ago.

“That tour was hard on all of us, Johannes…” Henrik said softly. “Practically recording an album on the road with a show every night, we worked harder than we ever had before... But we should have paid attention. We should have been there for you when you started getting sick...”

I wasn't sure if it was the genuine sincerity conjured by his blind ignorance that irritated me, but I couldn't expect any of them to understand, just as I didn't expect The King to understand… Even when I tried to make him.

“It doesn't matter, Henrik…” I whispered. “Everything we worked for is gone because of me and-- She- she couldn't even look at me, you know. She stopped visiting, and now...” I could feel tears welling in my eyes. “I don't think I can live with that.”

He winced, and the look in his eyes hurt even more. He was afraid of me, probably afraid he would end up in a hospital bed like Kungen had. He was looking at my hands again, which I was wringing together anxiously.

I didn't flinch when he reached for my hands again, brushing the mottled splotches of blue and purple spattered across my pale wrists. The touch was gentle and warm, his fingers squeezing mine reassuringly. The cold, unfeeling hands of the nurses and orderlies had starved me of this feeling. I felt like a disease, a virus that needed to be contained and disinfected to protect the population. I savored the moment.

“Do you even remember anything from that night, Jo?” Henrik asked, and I realized that the tears were flowing freely.

“Hands off the clown unless you want him to rip them off!” The security guard posted by the entrance boomed, taking an intimidating step towards the table. Henrik reluctantly pulled away, but eyed the man suspiciously. I wrapped my arms around myself and shrank into the chair, clinging to that brief sensation of comfort.

“Look, I don't think this place is for you…” Henrik began, turning to me again. I could see something shimmering behind him, the threads of reality beginning to fray around his head. Something was watching us, carefully listening to every word. “I need to talk to your doctor about the bruises, Johannes. You couldn't have done that to yourself...”

I couldn't take Henrik down this rabbit hole with me…

“No!” I snapped, rocking nervously in my seat. Skeletal hands like whispers of smoke were reaching from beyond the veil, reaching for Henrik… My voice seemed to stall them and startle the bassist at the same time.

“Don't, Henrik.” My voice was wavering, my eyes never leaving the gnarled fingers, invisible to my friend as they began to curl around his neck. “You can't do anything for me now. This is my penance… This is where I belong. Don't you fucking get it? I'm the goddamn monster who painted my face and almost murdered our best friend! They told me it took hours to pull all the glass out of him! It doesn't matter what I fucking remember!”

“Look, if you could just sign over a release form to me, I could--”

“Just… let me fucking rot here and get the fuck out!”

Henrik signed and lowered his gaze to the gray, tiled floor. My outburst had been enough for the security guard, deadpan as he pulled me roughly from my chair. I didn't resist, and I could have sworn I saw tears in the bassist’s eyes, as well.

The claws had retreated, satisfied with the cruelty of my words. They wanted to rip him open, tear into his kind heart, and I wouldn't let it happen again…

“He forgives you, Johannes…” Henrik called after me.

A low growl resonated throughout the winding corridors as I was hauled back to my room, shadows twisting in the flickering glow. They were calling my name, reaching for me, and I would belong to them soon...

All good things must come to an end:
Empty words, when Death is your friend.
I'm living this endless lucid dream,
In the land of the dead, I'm King Libertine.
Never buried, neither forgotten,
I dance and laugh amongst the rotten
And when my Kingdom meets its maker,
One song will silence the undertaker..."
- Song For The Dead

- - -

To be continued...

Chapter Text

"Give Me A Chance.
Let Me Explain.
Give Me The Cure
To The Sickness I Am
I Cant Take The Strain
Give Me A Name,
Something To Say.
Give Me A Meaning
To Live With My Stains...

It Cant Be Too Late…"

- - -

Glittering shards of glass are slowly falling in a brilliant spectrum of color, bright ribbons of scarlet flowing from fresh wounds. A smile spreads across my painted lips as I witness this abstract painting of macabre beauty, forever suspended in time…

I can remember the smell of his blood in the damp air, curling my hand around a piece of glass jutting from the window pane. I feel warmth spilling between my fingers, the pain distant as I look to the ground two storeys below.

He's still alive, much to my chagrin. Blood and glass decorates his dreadlocked hair, fanned around him like the halo of a fallen angel.

“It won't be long now, my King!” I call down to him, my voice wavering before breaking into giddy laughter as I go downstairs to finish what I've started.

I know I need to lead him to safety, away from this mortal coil. He'll come back to me, as he always has, as he always will... I slowly pull the blade from the sheath at my side, the mad painted face of The Clown grinning at me from its steely surface.

- - -

I was dozing off when the nurse called my name, as I often did in my perpetual pharmaceutical stupor these days. I didn't want to sleep, already forced to live a nightmare in the waking world, and distinguishing memories from dreams was becoming more and more difficult.

I was barely aware of my feet as I walked into a small office. There was a single window, and my heart almost leapt at the sight of trees outside, longing to feel the late winter breeze against my face.

“Thank you, dear.” There was something familiar about his voice. “Mr. Eckerström, if you would please have a seat…”

I blinked at the doctor from across a mahogany desk, taking a moment to adjust to my surroundings before I realized I'd requested this meeting weeks ago. His face blurred into focus, deep hazel eyes studying me curiously. His long, chestnut hair was tied loosely in a ponytail, a stray wave hanging down the side of his face. Beneath the collar of his indigo dress shirt, he wore a pendant. Something about it made my blood run cold and I tensed.

“Good morning, Johannes. My name is Dr. Droomers and I will be overseeing your care here at Brookhaven.” He spoke with a thick Dutch accent, his voice deep and strangely comforting. He was scanning through paperwork in a folder laid out in front of him. I caught an unfortunate glimpse of my booking photo and cringed. He quirked an eyebrow, and I saw his gaze fix on my wrists for a moment, but there was no judgement in his eyes when he looked at me again. “It seems you've had a bit of a rough start. How are you feeling today?”

A crow swooped down on a spindly tree branch outside the window, its head quirking to and fro. I watched it with avid interest. “Frankly, doc. I want to die.” I smiled absently and shrugged.

“Yes, you and just about everyone else in this building...” The good doctor replied matter-of-factly. He folded his hands in front of him, and I was mildly fascinated by the rings adorning his long fingers. “My job here is to help you overcome these delusions you're experiencing. I've looked over your case very closely and it looks like we will be spending quite a bit of time together.” He smiled reassuringly as I glared suspiciously. “It will take time… However, I do feel rehabilitation is possible.”

“Possible with drugs, hugs, and Jesus, I'm sure...” I growled, not in the mood for condescending psychobabble.

Dr. Droomers was unaffected by my snide remark, returning to my case file. His eyes seemed to change color in the pale, winter light as they flitted through the text.

“We can eventually discuss treatment methods that don't involve medication, though one of my biggest concerns I'm seeing here is that you've been refusing food and behaving violently towards staff.” He tilted his head. “You do recall breaking an orderly’s nose last week, correct?”

My smile widened. “The little fucker deserved much worse, trying to take what wasn't his.” I felt a cold chill hit me like a tidal wave, my expression changing to one of sorrow. “The insects lay their eggs in the food, you know… Dead flesh coming to life, infecting everything in its path.”

Dr. Droomers frowned, jotting down something in a separate notebook before standing. He stepped from behind his desk, circling the small, book-lined room until he was behind me. I was transfixed on that window and the gray expanse of sky beyond, foretelling of a great storm in the distance. The crow was gone now, the branch whipping in the howling winds.

“Beautiful, isn't it?” I heard his voice in my ear and shivered. “We can brave this storm together, Johannes...”

I felt a hand on my shoulder and froze, adrenaline surging as the instinct to defend myself took hold. I tried jerking away, but his grip held me in place, surprisingly strong despite his smaller frame. His cologne was intoxicating, and I turned my head to study his smoky features.

“I'm here to help you, Johannes.” He said, and I almost believed him. “I'm not going to waste your time with empty promises and false hopes, but unless you want more time under heavy sedation and restrained in the isolation wing, I would suggest you work with me.” His grip lessened, and his expression was kind. “I will keep a close eye on the orderlies, but if you can overcome your fear of the hospital's strictly regulated kitchen, I may be able to arrange outdoor privileges...”

“You'd… do that for me?”

I vaguely remembered my first doctor and how I had intimidated her, how her attempts in institutionalizing a deranged lunatic with group therapy and motivational seminars only ended in her fleeing in tears and spattered in a nurse’s blood after a routine vitals check. I could still see the faint red stain on the corner of the desk from where I'd hit the young man's head repeatedly. Unlike the rest of them, Dr. Droomers wasn't afraid of me in the slightest.

“I'm a firm believer of second chances, Johannes. I’ve read your lyrics and found them quite empowering, angry anthems of reaching one's inner potential… Philosophies derived from Hinduism, correct? I know you can find that power within yourself.”

My mind drifted to the bizarre visions that haunted my subconscious, dark landscapes where I submitted to phantom limbs and serpentine tongues. There, I was afraid and vulnerable, and yet I was safe and wanted. I followed the outline of Droomer’s intriguing profile, the curve of his nose and his full lips. I had a momentary thought of what it would feel like to be bent over this desk, his hands in my hair and one of his fine silk ties binding my wrists…

“And what makes you think I give a fuck about that anymore?” I asked him bitterly. “That part of me died when I almost took my oldest friend's life, doc.” And I'd done it because of the music, because of him...

I found myself leaning into the doctor’s touch and then it was gone. He had returned to his seat, making a few more scribbled notes before regarding me again. His hazel eyes were intense and authoritative.

“I don't think weekly appointments will suffice for you, not right now. I want to see you here bright and early three times a week. Until then, please try to eat. Can you do that for me, Johannes?”

“I-- Yeah.” My stomach growled loudly despite the perpetual nausea from the drugs.

In this life and those previous, I had never been one to adhere to any institution or follow orders, and I'd fought these sanctimonious enforcers of psychiatric sterilization ever since they brought me here. I took their abuse and their lies and spit it right back in their smug faces.

The doctor smiled warmly, his teeth bright against his light olive skin, disarming me completely. I wanted to trust him, but not because I felt I could redeem my freedom and return to a life that wanted nothing to do with me. “We will begin our sessions tomorrow morning. I'll speak to the med team about vegan supplements for you, as well.”

He extended a hand and I took it, noting the raw power I felt radiating from him in pulsing waves. The others had been weak, but him…

The lights in the building flickered briefly, a low growl of thunder in the distance. Shadows danced in the corners, and yet I smiled genuinely for the first time in months.

- - -

Henrik rubbed his eyes wearily, having watched the surveillance video for a sixth time in a row. His third cup of coffee for the evening sat ignored on the desk, the blue light of the screen flickering across his sharp features until he paused it again at that pivotal moment.

It had taken some work to acquire the footage, requiring some help from friends in high places. Henrik had known the legal risks, and despite this, he knew there was much more that happened that night than he, the police, or even Johannes could understand. He stared at the image on his desktop for a moment, shaking his head in dismay.

Displayed on the screen was a grainy still image of a second story window, a gaping hole where a multi-colored glass mosaic had been. A lanky figure stood in the frame, his black hair billowing around his laughing, painted face. Despite the low quality of the camera on a rain-soaked night, Henrik could see the blood in monochromatic splatters across the elegant ruffled shirt and white jacket of The Clown’s costume. He was gripping a knife in one hand, but that wasn't what had caught the bass player’s attention:

Something loomed behind Johannes after he pushed Kungen from the window, visible for only a moment and partially obscured by the torrents of rain and wild wisps of the vocalist’s inky mane. He would never rid himself of the image, the sight of teeth too sharp in a mouth too wide, mad eyes in a twisted skull burning like incendiaries into Henrik’s psyche. He shivered, closing the laptop more roughly than intended.

Henrik had studied the capture over and over, just to make sure he wasn't losing his mind as well. After sending the footage to Tim and having his phone blow up with notifications, he was now impatiently waiting for a knock on his door. Henrik had known Johannes for most of his life, making that beautiful dream of music become a reality with him and John at the helm for over fifteen years until now.

Johannes truly wasn't capable of this kind of evil, and Henrik couldn't believe a word of it when his companion was hauled away by police that night. He knew he wouldn't be believed himself if he took the video to the authorities, but it was now clear Johannes was in danger and there wasn't much time left...

- - -

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Child of the Starlight - Chapter 4:
The Mandela Effect
- - -

Henrik sighed wearily, yanking off his t-shirt to add to the pile of sodden clothing on the tiled floor. The jog had done little to ease his mind, the grainy image of sharp teeth and glittering eyes, still haunting his mind as he'd ran along the tree-lined trail. He was grateful that his wife and daughter had been away on holiday for the week, because he hadn't slept a wink since the visit to Brookhaven.

The house had been dead silent when he returned, the first silvery wisps of dawn beginning to creep through the trees surrounding the property. Tim had been busy all night, analyzing the surveillance footage with a fine toothed comb. Now he was fast asleep, sprawled out on the sofa with his laptop open and cans scattered on the table in front of him. Henrik gently prodded at a Donald Duck sneaker-clad foot dangling over the side, then decided to leave the video editing expert to his own devices and take a shower.

The chill in his bones wasn't quite alleviated by the near-scalding water cascading over his skin, but he was satisfied just washing off the sweat and dirt from his run for now, and eventually passing out himself. Still, his thoughts were restless despite the exhaustion, flitting between a man wrongfully condemned because of an unseen malevolence and trying to convince the powers that be that he wasn't responsible for his actions. It was a long shot, and he sniggered quietly to himself as he remembered the exchange between he and Tim after watching the file.

- - -

Are you fucking with me, bro?” Tim snapped at the bassist.

Henrik had expected such an inquiry. “I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, thought it might be a trick of the light, but… Hear me out. We all know he wasn’t the same after the last tour… After that stop in the Netherlands, he just wasn't himself anymore…. They want to say it was a nervous breakdown, but I think something followed him.”

“What do you mean ‘something’?” Tim’s eyes narrowed. “Are you seriously justifying attempted murder with some spooky voodoo bullshit? Don't forget that he's still being investigated for a body they found just a few kilometers from his house.”

Henrik paused, thinking of how quickly Johannes had pushed him away when he offered help, how his old friend seemed paralyzed with fear, always looking past Henrik instead of at him. Henrik had also felt something there, a sensation like gossamer threads brushing his neck as something loomed beyond his perception of reality.

“Look, I fucking know how it sounds, but that…” He gestured to the screen, to the skeletal grin full of jagged teeth beneath a crown of twisted metal, looming over Johannes’ broad shoulders with gnarled hands reaching out like the master and his puppet. “I've… I think I've seen it before.”

Tim paused momentarily, giving the horrific visage one last, thoughtful look before closing the laptop. He looked as if he hadn't been sleeping himself, dark circles under his normally bright eyes.

“Yeah...” the guitarist murmured. “I think I have, too.”

- - -

“We have to help him…”

Henrik was too lost in his thoughts to realize he was speaking aloud, letting the steaming water run over his face. He had processed too much in so little time, from nearing the pinnacle of his career to blaming supernatural activity for a singer’s violent meltdown into an insane asylum, and yet...

Henrik felt a heaviness wash over him with the spray of the showerhead, a dizzying fatigue that lingered momentarily until a sudden, pelting cold jerked him awake in an instant.

What the fuck!” He cried, quickly reaching for the handle, but his hands brushed only slick, bare stone. He felt as if he were being stabbed by thousands of icy needles, collapsing to the floor in a shivering heap. He made a weak attempt to shield himself from the barrage, crying out in fear until it suddenly stopped.

He lifted his head slowly, turning to look behind him. To his horror, he was no longer in his shower, safe in his home in Sweden. He couldn't quite describe where he was, a faint, glimmering light from somewhere above casting a dreary glow across gray walls splattered with an unmistakable substance, dark red and partially coagulated. Henrik lifted a hand to his face, realizing the ground was soaked as well. He was now lying helpless, covered in the aftermath of what looked like a massacre.

But where were the bodies?

He began to hyperventilate, shivering as his trembling hands slid across the cold, wet floor in a failed attempt to stand. He wanted to scream, but his mind quickly deduced that there would be no use to waste the air as his eyes saw that there was no door. Darkness stretched on endlessly above, no explanation for the sickly light filling the strange chamber.

“I must have hit my head…” Henrik murmured to himself, finding the strength to pull himself to his feet. He felt delirious and nauseated, like the worst hangover of his life before it had even began, and he willed himself to wake up.

“You're quite awake, dear Henrik.” A voice cut through the grim silence, and Henrik bit his lip to suppress a scream before turning. His back hit the wall as he regretted even acknowledging the presence, eyes widening in fear.

N-No…

Hanging in the cool, humid air of this nightmare room could be described as a man at fist glance, but a closer inspection made it clear that he was anything but: Dark, flowing hair hung over broad shoulders distinguished by shining epaulets, the thing clad in what Henrik recognized as a military uniform of sorts. His long, black tailcoat was embroided with swirling, intricate designs, his muscular legs clad in tight eather with buckles running down the sides, and heavy boots made for battle climbing halfway up his calves.

Henrik could see there was small smirk on the creature’s bearded features, darkly handsome had it not been for the scars jutting like black lightning across his corpse white flesh. His long, white hands with skeletal fingers ending in curved black talons slowly reached for the bassist.

“P-please don't hurt me!“ Henrik cried, trying to push himself further into the corner he was already backed into. His was struggling to keep from losing his footing on the blood-slick ground, and yet the demon inched closer without any trouble. He clenched his eyes shut, hoping he'd come to in his bed, safe and sound… Instead, Henrik felt the demon's chest pressed against his own. He gasped, flinching as icy talons ran themselves down his bare flank.

There was no doors, no windows, only this narrow chasm soaked in crimson death, and he was alone with his nightmare that looked almost Messianic with skeletal blades for hands. This should have been nothing more than a product of exhaustion, and yet he could feel it, long waves of hair brushing against his trembling skin as the creature leaned closer.

“Doesn't this remind you of old times, Henrik?” The thing asked him, sharp teeth glittering in the gloom as a smile stretched across his hawkish, bearded features. Henrik stifled a sob as he felt the demon's tongue, forked and black, sliding along his jaw. “The smell of blood drenching the soil, and the beauty of your suffering… It would be a pleasure to kill you again, but...”

“I don't know what the fuck you're talking about!” Henrik cried weakly, pushing back against what felt like another wall in front of him. “We've done nothing to you! Please, just leave me and Johannes--” 'He was panicking now, raising his arms to strike furiously and shrieked in pain as his fists were seized in one large, bladed vice. “L-leave us alone, you sick bastard!”

“You might not remember me now, but you will…” The creature hissed, his other hand reaching to curl in Henrik’s auburn mane, forcing his head back. Those teeth were coming closer, and there was no way out.

Henrik could feel the tears brimming in his eyes, and yet there was indeed something familiar about their obscene embrace. This had happened before, and he remembered every excruciating sensation. He felt the crushing of his ribs, his throat torn open wide, and yet he still stood, naked and vulnerable in the enemy's grip.

“Perhaps we can make amends for past transgressions, little fox.” The demon cooed. His voice was almost soothing, and yet there was an almost reptilian growl beneath it as he spoke. “For your undying loyalty to The King, I want to give you something…”

“Please… J-just let me go home. Let me go--” Henrik screamed as curving canines pierced the taut flesh of his neck, blood spraying against the stone wall behind him. The demon pushed him harder against the wall, the clawed hand furled in his hair snaking down to the small of his back to hold him close. Henrik knew this entity from a another time long ago in a world far beyond the realms of this one, a name that spread fear like a plague across the land.

“Ardek… ” He whispered. The pain was almost exhilarating.

The one called Ardek lifted his head, glistening crimson smeared across his bearded face. He snarled, his expression almost serene as he touched his victim's face gingerly, admiring the sharp curve of his cheekbones. Henrik’s mind was reeling between fear, rage, pain and an all too familiar sensation that sickened him.

“Such a beautiful thing you are, Henrik…” Ardek purred, stroking his wet, matted hair like one would a cherished house pet before euthanizing it. “I mourned you for many moons, sat beside your grave as each century passed by, and now… In this flicker of time, I have you again.”

Henrik moaned weakly, unable to form a response as his legs finally gave out beneath him. Ardek didn't stop him as he slid to his knees, images of burning trees and bloodied fields in the creature's wake, the final moments of his previous life flooding his consciousness.

“My Lord has his Nightingale safely locked away until the time is right, and it would be in your best interest not to intervene.” Ardek stood over him for a moment, revelling in the young bassist’s powerless state. “It is a great shame The King was not disposed of, so there is still some use for you…”

“What the hell are you talking about?!” Henrik whimpered, flinching away from the demon as he knelt to inspect him more closely, green eyes immobilizing him where he cowered. His long hands deftly snaked around the bassist’s toned legs, chuckling as he pulled him close with a tug.

“You look just the same as I remember, but you are no longer the bloodthirsty killer who valiantly fought for his kingdom… Here, you are innocent, naive, and weak.” He paused momentarily, then smiled. “I like it.”

Henrik hissed meekly, helpless as Ardek’s bloodied beard brushed his neck before he kissed him roughly. He was beyond fight or flight now, torn from his home and into the arms of this monster that he only knew like a childhood nightmare. The demon pushed him down against the cold, gore slicked floor.

“You'll remember me in time, fox. But I can certainly refresh your memory if you'd like...” Ardek grinned his hungry smile full of bone- crushing teeth before taloned fingers slid down to the waistband of his leather trousers, unfastening them quickly. Henrik didn't have time to protest before his legs we're kicked open, a heavy weight pinning him down. He shivered in revulsion as that familiar sensation burned like fire in the pit of his stomach. He knew they had shared far more than the battlefield many ages ago, and he was to be far more than a meal for his phantom captor.

“Please tell me who you are…” Henrik gasped as Ardek’s forked tongue caressed his cheek, the cold lips alarmingly gentle as they found his again, passionate and yet dangerously possessive. “Why are you doing this?!” He moved to push him away, but found he was paralyzed.

“My lord is merely reclaiming stolen property, dear.” Ardek purred. The mortal whimpered as he felt the demon’s hardness against him, self-restraint dissapating into nothing. He moaned weakly, cheeks burning red. The demon continued, teasing him mercilessly as he ran a clawed finger along the other's delicate throat. “I eliminate anything that might pose as a threat to his mission, bleed it dry and leave it to rot in the nothingness… but I just like you so much.”

He kissed him again, more roughly this time as a ribbon of blood spilled from the human’s lower lip. There was no warning as Ardek thrust into his tight warmth with a low growl, tasting his agony and lust as Henrik screamed against his hungry mouth. Ardek had claimed his helpless pet, the human instinctively throwing his arms over the creature’s broad shoulders, violently siezed in a mixture of emotions.

“You're better than I remember, kleine vos.” Ardek cooed, and Henrik threw his head back with a howl as the demon drew back and buried himself deeper inside of him, his claws digging hard into the bassist’s hips. “You taste sweeter, too…”

The only sound came in frantic, keening whimpers, flesh against flesh. The demon's hair was soft as silk beneath Henrik’s bloodied hands. He should have considered himself lucky that he wasn't part of the macabre décor himself, or was this creature savoring him like a cat playing with its meal?

Henrik had been consumed by the desire to understand why this was happening, emotions contrasting and clashing until they reached a boiling point. Johannes had been driven mad and locked away like an animal to be used like a tool by something that didn't even exist in this realm, and now he was staring up into the eerie green eyes of a similar fate...

The demon called Ardek saw the questions in the mortal man’s flushed face and sighed blissfully at his naïveté, tearing into him with a wrath he'd been saving for centuries.

“You made it so easy for us to find you again,” Ardek rasped, fucking him harder as the human clung to him for dear life, screaming in ecstacy. “Five minds creating one dream so beautiful that we felt its warmth in the pitch black of this prison you made for us so many moons ago. We called to you and you let us right inside your door…”

- - -

“Henrik! Hey, Henrik! Wake up, motherfucker!”

Henrik was vaguely aware of Tim’s voice, muddled and wavering beneath the icy water. The void stretching above him exploded in a burst of light as he was forcably pulled from his shower, coughing water from his lungs. He smelled blood,,red streaming down his wavering vision as Tim’s horrified face came into focus.

“What the fuck happened, man?” Tim almost bellowed this as he hurriedly wrapped a towel around the bassist’s trembling, nude form before scrambling for his phone. “I need to get you to a hospital!”

NO! No… Back the fuck off.” Henrik sputtered raggedly, too delirious to appreciate his friend's well-intended hysterics, the chamber of blood still visible in his mind's eye, a paralyzing presence still crushing the life from his bones. There was shame as well, so much shame… He brought a hand wearily to his neck, his breath hitching as he touched the gaping wound there. It hadn't been a dream.

“The fuck do you mean ‘no’?“ Tim demanded with an unusually shrill edge to his voice, and even in his daze, Henrik knew the younger musician wasn't nearly as angry as he sounded. He shivered, feeling the heavy claws of sleep beginning to drag him under but fought it. He didn't want to go back…

But hadn't he been moaning like a whore in that little pocket of hell? Hadn't he implored his attacker to violate him while he relived his own death from another era again and again in that sordid embrace?

“I'm losing my mind… Must be fucking contagious.” Henrik began to laugh, wincing as he did with labored breath. His laughter quickly turned to tears.

“It's a socially acceptable time to drink somewhere on Earth right now…” Tim murmured, hefting his slightly heavier companion upright and into his bedroom. Tim let him collapse on the mattress, where he'd laid out several spare towels and a first aid kit. “Henrik… I'm going to patch you up and you're going to sleep, okay? Then you need to tell me what happened…”

“I- I can't sleep. I can't go back!” Henrik groaned, gritting his teeth as Tim began to disinfect the deep punctures on his neck with peroxide. It was if he'd been attacked by a large animal, but the window had been locked and there was nothing in the shower to indicate he'd done this to himself. Tim shivered before reaching for the gauze.

“He's waiting for me in there, in a room with no doors or windows, and the blood… There was a massacre in there. I saw the trees burning. I saw myself die. I saw us...” Henrik was staring through Tim as if he weren't there, but then his tone changed as lucidity came to him for just a moment. “Johannes...”

“What about…? Did you-- did you see it? The thing we saw in the video with Johannes?!” Tim wanted nothing more than to leave, to debunk this as collective hysteria and let Henrik sort out this fixation with helping a psychopath himself. But Tim never wanted to believe it, never wanted to abandon a friend who had never given him reason to. He wouldn't let this happen to Henrik, as well.

“No… There are others like hiim. They serve him as their King.” Henrik peered up at Tim, who was now transfixed on the long scratches curving around his hips and lower back.

“Fuck. Please tell me… Tell me what happened.” Tim’s heart was racing as he reached for the bassist’s hand, but Henrik flinched away from the touch. The guitarist’s heart sank at this, feeling a deep rage beginning to burn inside him towards whatever had harmed him.

“It gave me a warning.” Henrik bit his lip, forcing his own anguish on the back burner. “It told me not to intervene. They got in Johannes’ head, made him do those things… It can do the same to us if we don't let them take him.”

“Then… There's nothing we can do, Henrik!” Tim was incredulous. Was Henrik ready to die for of this? For Johannes? Something deep down implored him, a spark that ignited the fury even further, and Tim wanted to fight as well. Henrik had never looked so lost to him.

“Not like that, Tim… That thing called Johannes their property. We can't…” He took a breath, leaning back against the pillows and seeming to relax somewhat. “We can't let this one go…”

Tim sighed. “I'll help you, Henrik,” he said softly, tentatively brushing the edges of the bandage on the man’s collarbone. Blood was beginning to well beneath the gauze like poppy blossoms. Tim worried about infection. “No matter what, we aren't fighting anything without you getting some rest. I'll stay here with you tonight… If that's okay, anyway.”

Henrik nodded slowly, but his fear was tangible.Tim could feel it hanging in the air like a dense fog as he draped a blanket over his friend, already drifting into what he hoped would be a dreamless sleep. He threw a pillow on the floor for himself, distracting himself with the monotony of social media before sleep claimed him, as well.

- - -

In Tim’s dream, he saw the burning trees that Henrik had spoke of. The forest screamed in agony as she and her creatures were consumed by ravenous hellfire, the sky black and alight with brilliant bolts of crimson. Sword clenched in his hand, he ran through through acrid smoke and over smoldering brush, dodging falling branches as the once lush woods died around him. He came to a clearing, a scream of rage bellowing in his throat when he saw him.

Ardek stood over the corpse of the warrior, head tilted to the side as he studied his kill with mild interest. Blood drenched his beard and uniform, streaked through his auburn waves. He turned his head towards Tim and smiled, Henrik’s blood fresh in his pointed teeth.

“Such a fucking waste, don't you think? But he made his choice…” His laughter came in a rumbling growl.

Tim stared at the lifeless white face on the ground, those once beautiful eyes now clouded, never to see again, a halo of crimson around his head where blood pooled beneath him. With tears of grief rolling down his face, he lunged.

The demon’s scream of triumph joined the crash of thunder above. Tim’s blade lifted high, he leapt at the demon with a howl of rage, intent to split his skull in two and avenge his fallen companion. He felt pain explode in his chest, the weapon clattering to the earth below.

- - -

The moments before his death seemed to stretch on forever, and he woke in the present with the sensation of long, skeletal fingers curling around his heart before crushing it like an oversized grape. He jolted upright with a wince, his back aching dully from sleeping on the hard floor.

To his relief, he was no longer dying in a burning forest and back in Henrik’s bedroom. The sun was now setting, its gold rays shining through the window and over the bassist’s resting form. He was breathing softly, his dreams appearing untroubled… But Tim knew nothing was as it seemed.

“I'm not letting anything happen to you, you cursed son of a bitch. I promise you that…”

***********

To be continued…

Chapter Text

The heart of a King can be measured in dreams,
Reaching the sleep of his people.
A whisper of ghosts saying we'll be redeemed,
From our sins, he will build us a castle...

*:* * *

Chapter 5:

Sleep had eluded me that night, and I sat on my bed with my back against cold cinderblock, staring out into the vast nothingness beyond the confines of my cell. I had guessed by the frequency of shadows drifting to and fro beneath the doorframe that it was now morning again. For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope for today, as much as I detested that word as of late....

I had managed to avoid another night in restraints at the good doctor's request, holding my tongue at their judgement and choking down their abysmal excuse for food, much to the chagrin of my gag reflex. I could still feel its presence, large and spreading like an infection that was slowly constricting the life from the air, insects hatching and swarming within the cracks in the walls with their thousands of eyes all serving a higher consciousness. My stomach churned as heard their chitinous hum.

The already caustic shroud of reality was thinning around me as the days crawled by, unravelling along with my mind. The very thought of looking forward to this routine mental evaluation should have been absurd, as there wasn't a psychiatric facility in the world that was equipped to handle my prognosis.

However, there was something about Dr. Droomers, from the way he addressed me as more than a case number to his no-bullshit demeanor, and the way his eyes seemed to glow when he looked up at me over the elegant rims of his reading glasses.

I laughed, a hoarse sound that I almost didn't recognize. I could barely understand who I was or what I'd become, and yet it felt like the beginning stages of Stockholm syndrome to place trust in a white coat with a medical degree so soon, and yet…

I longed for the comfort of being able to speak face to face with another human without seeing the fear in their eyes. There hadn't been even a hint of hesitation in Droomer’s expression, his smile genuine as he took my hand firmly in his own.

He didn't give a fuck about what I could do to him...

I was pulled from my strange train of thought when I heard the inevitable click of the deadbolt. I looked to the door and saw that the shadows beneath the frame had ceased their movements, the usual shuffling and murmur of voices in various stages of coherency silenced.

“Er, hello…? Is anyone there?” There was no reply from the other side.

Frowning, I slowly slid from my corner in the room, approaching the door with caution. The silence behind it rung inside my head with an unsettling resonance, and I found myself holding my breath as I turned the handle to take a cursory glance outside.

The halls of the residential wing were empty, a cold blue light flickering along dingy walls and cracking tile. There was no one out there, no patients wandering aimlessly, no scrutinizing orderlies, and the nurses had disappeared from their post at the end of the corridor. I felt uneasy, wondering if I had fallen asleep and something was waiting further down…

It certainly felt real as I crept further towards the exit into the visiting area. As I passed the last patient room to my left, I caught a glimpse of dark crimson pooling in the corner, and cried out suddenly as something brushed against my leg.

"Fuck!

I shot back against the wall, panting as I stared down into two wide, green eyes blinking slowly up at me. The tortoiseshell cat’s tail flicked contentedly, chirrping as it playfully batted a paw towards me in a friendly gesture. A blue ribbon was tied around her neck, which meant someone must have been looking for her.

“You really shouldn't be here, kitty…” I whispered, and my nose began to itch. I leaned down to give the small creature a pat, extremely confused and yet somehow grateful to see her.

A little cat wasn't safe in a hospital full of deranged psychopaths such as myself, even if there didn't seem to be anyone to be concerned about for the moment. I kneeled down, biting back another sneeze so as not to startle her as I scooped the animal into my arms.

I vaguely recalled a group therapy session where the idiot with the clipboard attempted to instill a false sense of community by having us confess our transgressions aloud. One gentleman in particular had gone into such graphic detail about what he'd done to a litter of kittens and with such a cavalier tone that I had to interject. I didn't know precisely what happened until I heard frightened voices around me, my hands around his throat as I slammed the back of his head into the tile until he felt the pain he'd inflicted on those innocent lives.

But was I any better for what I'd done to him, or to anyone else in this godforsaken place? I thought of Kungen, breath hitching in my throat as I when l remembered his terror…

The cat purred as I stroked her ears gently, and I continued through the doors of the common area in hopes of finding someone to return her home. Rows of empty tables greeted me, paper cups and dirty dishes scattered across the floor as if everyone had fled in a hurry. I saw another set of doors at the other side of the room, one only previously accessible to staff via key card. One of the doors was hastily propped open with a chair, the only illumination coming from the dim red glow of an emergency light further down the hall.

“What the fuck is going on?” I asked the cat for no reason, wiping my nose on the sleeve of my shirt. My allergy to my new friend's dander was far less concerning than finding myself alone in an abandoned hospital, the feline’s purr comforting in the crippling silence around us.

We walked past empty offices, desks scattered with files, cabinets overturned with their contents strewn down the hall and computer monitors with flickering static on their screens. I felt an urge to walk faster, moving towards the end as quickly as possible.

The cat flattened her ears against her head, pupils dilating. I instinctively gripped her tighter as she began to growl, and I knew her agitated state had nothing to do with me.

“What am I doing? Why is this happening?” My legs felt disembodied as I broke into a sprint towards the end of the hall, towards a large red door that seemed out of place, but I didn't dare look back.

The door opened easily as I threw myself inside, struggling to keep a grip on the frightened animal as I slammed the door shut. Something large charged into the door as I turned the lock with trembling hands, bellowing a horrible sound I couldn't begin to describe to this day.

“You're lucky you're cute, you little asshole...” I hissed as I slid to the soft ground, wanting to catch my breath until I realized where I was, though I didn't understand how. The cat meowed in a peculiar creaky fashion as she demanded to be let down, hopping down to my my feet and staring at me with the same expectant demeanor from before.

“Well, Lassie… Did I fall down the well?”

Twisting black branches made up the walls enclosing me, braiding together and reaching upwards towards a pitch black night, though I couldn't see any stars. The gnarled trunks stretched onwards, creating a path towards a wide clearing, a strange symbol burning in its center. Something waited for me there in the faint amber glow, something that I could not escape so long as I breathed.

A mournful sound like a siren rose up in the wind, a call to worship in the wind, carrying the stench of death in its wake. I could hear movement in the bizarre formation of trees around me, the same fear that pulled me through those doors now paralyzing me in place.

It was here with me, a growl rumbling from it's throat as I caught flash of pale blonde disappearing from my periphery, the snap of teeth just behind my right shoulder, billowing gusts of dead, dry air by what sounded like very large wings above my head.

I tilted my head back, seeing the silhouette of something almost human at first. I remembered depictions of angels in books, a concept I considered to be mere fiction conjured by mankind to validate its meager existence, but this was nothing like the ethereal messengers of a higher power they sang of at Mass.

Instead of lush feathers, sharp black barbs cut through the night from the edges of its massive wings, longer blade-like protrusions jutting from its spine and down its lean arms. Black scars marred ghostly white flesh, pale hair drifting around its shadowed features like an ethereal shroud. It pointed a clawed finger in my direction, then towards the glowing sigil in the clearing.

“Why won't you leave me alone?!” I screamed at it,tears prickling in my eyes. I knew that this dark harbinger was not the one to take my life, eyes glittering red behind a curtain of blonde. “If you're not here to kill me, stop fucking with me or I'll cut my goddamn throat myself!”

“We're not letting you go so easily.” The pale haired demon's voice came with the wind, a sigh curling through the wavering branches, deep in the soil beneath my feet. “She will guide you when the time is right…”

I clenched my eyes shut, knuckles white as I held back a scream of rage. I was tired and alone, a miscarriage of useless flesh tossed away with the rest of the garbage, and I wouldn't be toyed with anymore.

“What are you doing back here, Johannes?”

When I opened my eyes, the gnarled woods were gone, now replaced by white paint and wood paneling. The creature was gone, but I felt a familiar tug at my pant leg and looked down to see the cat staring up at me again. Dr. Droomers was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, but there was relief on his face as well.

“I…” I jerked my head in the direction of where I'd run through the red door, seeing only a wall lined with bland stock photography in the staff wing. I had no idea how I'd gotten here in the first place. “Er, is this your cat?”

The doctor quirked an eyebrow, hazel eyes skeptical. He bent and cooed to the animal, who immediately bounded towards him with her tail held high. His hair hung loose over his shoulders in gentle waves, and I couldn't help but note how his dark knit shirt clung to his muscled form.

“Phoebe, you little witch!” He playfully scolded the feline, his expression grateful when he looked to me again. I couldn't help but avoid his gaze, perhaps in fear of impending punishment or that I might stare for too long.

“We can overlook the fact that you're breaking several rules right now, Johannes… You're just in time for our session! I've been looking for this little idiot since I came in this morning, so thank you.”

“Well, like I told her, it's kind of a dangerous place to be wandering alone… Crazy people, y’ know?” I shoved my hands in the pockets of my baggy pants, swaying nervously.

“Touché.” Dr. Droomers replied. “She seems to be quite fond of you, though.”

“Feeling’s mutual, but I'm allergic.” I said, sniffling slightly.

“Ah…” Dr. Droomers paused, then gestured me quickly out of the hall towards his office. I remembered the hallway from before, furniture skewed and papers scattered, the pool of blood in one of the patient rooms, the forest…

“Did you sleep at all, Johannes? You don't look well.” There was genuine concern in his voice, something I wasn't used to hearing. I had been watching my feet, looking up to meet his hazel eyes glancing over his shoulder. The cat was curled in his arms with her back legs in the air, still purring contentedly.

“No, not really…” I shrugged indifferently. “Dreaming isn't really what it used to be. I can't tell whether I'm awake anymore, anyway.”

“Are you having hallucinations right now?” He asked me as we stepped into the threshold of his office. Outside the lone window, the sun was rising, casting pink striations into the clouds in a sky that was the most brilliant blue I'd seen in a long time.

“No,” I replied honestly. “I don't know when to expect them, and I know that they're just fragments of my guilt, but I don't know where one ends and another begins… I honestly don't know how I got back there.” I chuckled nervously.

Droomers listened to me closely, his hands folded on the desk in front of him. As much as I resented the thought of pouring my thoughts out to someone I'd never know outside these walls, I needed the release, needed to trust someone with my restless thoughts. It wasn't like he was terrible to look at, either.

“Can you tell me what you saw then?” Droomers asked, reaching for his notepad. I cringed, knowing he held my fate in those pages if he chose to damn me further. I knew I needed help, but decided there were some details that were better left out. I shivered, wringing my hands together nervously.

“If you think I'm going to judge you for having to suffer seeing some fucked up shit, you are quite mistaken.” Droomers said plainly. “I am only here to observe and perhaps help you interpret some of these visions, give me a better understanding of what happened.”

I nodded meekly, feeling some pressure lift from my shoulders. “I… I guess I wanted to die, and I thought I saw an angel… but it was something else. I never saw it before now, but I…” I sighed. “I keep seeing patterns, symbols, this pull, this... Thing was just a messenger luring me deeper down the rabbit hole. There's something… It feels like something's waiting.”

“Something's waiting, like what? What does this feel like?” Droomers asked, and I felt riveted and intimidated by the intensity of his gaze. “Do you consider yourself a religious man, Johannes?”

“Ha. Fuck no.”

I tensed suddenly, overcome by a numbing paralysis as I recalled my nightmare companion. “The thing is, I feel like I've been running for so long... being chased through blackened wastelands, through dense woods and haunted catacombs, outrun and overcome every fucking time. I never know when it's coming, never know that it's there until it would get its hands on me. I can't remember being in one place to the next. Sometimes I think I'm somewhere else, somewhere safe with someone… And then I turn and it's there “

“You feel you are being hunted by your guilt? Can you describe it, what it does when it finds you?”

I sighed, wishing he hadn't asked that question so soon. “It takes a little more from me every time…” I could still feel the strange phantom hands sliding down my skin, holding me down until it was sated. “I feel like I'm being possesed.”

But I had also felt wanted, like I belonged to something greater.

“It's common in many cases of sudden onset psychosis where the patient feels like they're being overtaken by an unseen force to explain the loss of control in their lives.” Dr. Droomers explained, and something about his tone made me compelled to believe him. “It’s only natural that the breakdown manifested itself into waking nightmares and delusions. I am definitely concerned about these fugue states, though...”

Tell me,” be lowered his eyes to his notes, and I watched the sunlight bounce off the smooth waves of his hair. “Do you remember anything that happened the night before you were admitted here, anything that might have been a catalyst?”

“No,” I sighed, and that was true. “I remembered waking up covered in blood that wasn't mine, sirens in my ears. If it hadn't been for...” My words caught in my throat, fresh tears welling.

“If it hadn't been for who?”

“If…” I blinked, feeling my heart beginning to pound in my chest. I tried to remember, but the more I searched the depths, the more I didn't want to. “Hey, did you know one of those asshole orderlies broke my glasses the last time they tackled me into a wall? And what the fuck do I have to do to get a pencil and paper around here?”

“You're changing the subject on purpose, Johannes….” Droomers warned, quirking an eyebrow at my weak attempt to derail the conversation. “Trying to summon the memories of the event is too painful for you right now. This is your mind’s way of protecting itself.”

“I was supposed to protect him…” I murmured weakly. I felt like I had no control over what I said next: “I loved the King and I betrayed him.”

“The King… as in your former guitarist? Jonas?” The doctor asked. He was watching me closely, chin rested on the palm of his hand. His voice had a hypnotic quality, lulling me deeper into a trance. “You still care deeply for him…”

“We grew up together, and I always told him I felt like I'd known him forever, like we connected paths for a reason. He inspired me create music, guided me-- hell, he helped through some shit you couldn't even imagine!”

“Perhaps.” Droomers smiled.

“Those words I wrote were supposed to be a celebration of his life, a dream we all shared, and then I tried to take it… I fucked everything up.” I felt sick, hatred surging from deep within, the rage I felt towards myself, for the pain I'd inflicted, for the void that did not allow me to remember so I could suffer as he had. “We created a concept. We created this world and the King…. But for a while, I thought it was all real, like we'd already been there...”

It was more than just an impulsive idea conjured on a cramped bus in the middle of our last tour together. It had overcome us, our minds becoming one as we channeled something that flowed from our hands and our instruments as we wrote the album in a frenzy.

“So, you feel as if you became enamored by a concept, and not by Jonas himself?”

“I… I don't know.” I cringed, ducking my head in shame as his line of questioning began to cut deep. I peered up at him through a messy curtain of hair, silently imploring him to stop. The void inside me was vast, a cold emptiness starved for comfort boiling into rage. He hadn't moved, tilting his head with a benign curiosity.

I couldn't control the tears when they came, vivid images of the aftermath coming in strobing flashes.

I was laughing while they hauled me away in handcuffs, soaked in rain and blood across a field littered in broken glass, declaring: ”The King is Eternal! Long live the King!”

Dr. Droomers’ expression was somber. “Johannes, you must comes to terms with the fact that you nearly murdered your bandmate while suffering the delusion that he was the timeless King you created for your album. You threw him out of a window and medical reports tell me you barely avoided a murder charge, plus an active investigation for another.”

I stared at him, feeling attacked and having no way of protecting myself from the stinging truth in his words. I was succumbing to the grip of the ghosts that haunted me. “But he lived...

Droomers nodded, his expression shifting to one of sadness and surprise as his eyes drifted down to my hands. I was too lost in that hopeless place to feel the pain, hot warmth spilling down my forearms, deep scarlet staining the sleeves of my shirt. I hadn't realized I'd started wringing my wrists again, worrying my nails into the thin flesh until it bled. He was up from his seat in an instant.

I felt his hand brush my shoulder and saw claws like gnarled black branches reaching for me from all sides, barbed alien limbs wrapping themselves around my neck and torso, eager to rip me apart. I whirled around and threw my arms out blindly, ready for battle, unwilling to let it take me down without a fight!

What could have resulted in the good doctor's skull being cracked open like an egg on the desk like another before him, driving his predecessor to quit on the spot, didn't go quite as planned. My fists barely made contact before he grabbed my blood-slicked wrists and twisted me around with my back against him, putting me in a tight sleeper hold before I could blink.

“Stop fighting, Johannes! I'm not going to hurt you...” I heard his voice hiss in my ear, the subtle scent of sandalwood in the cologne he wore. I gasped for breath, clawing at his arms as he continued to apply pressure to my windpipe.

“They can't hurt you so long as I'm here, do you understand?” His voice was soothing, deep and smoky, and somehow I knew he was not the enemy I feared. I dropped my arms to my sides, consciousness beginning to fade, but I wasn't ready to face the nightmare.

“Please… Please don't make them sedate me. Don't let them tie me down again. I'm so tired, but in my dreams… I'm still running...” I felt his grip loosen slightly, but he held fast for a moment until his arms moved to wrap around my shoulders instead. “I'm done… I can't do this anymore, doc.”

Yes you can, Johannes...” He whispered, and I didn't struggle again when he turned me to face him, his head canted back slightly to meet my eyes. He took my hands in his own, completely indifferent to my blood soaking his sleeves. “This pain doesn't have to last. We can work through it together.”

I nodded, gripping him hands tighter as if letting go would be the last thing I ever did. I needed the warmth of his touch, the protection of his voice. After losing everything else, he was all I had left.

Meanwhile, the little cat sat curled in the corner, seemingly undisturbed by the violent outburst, her brilliant green eyes watching us with interest.

* * *

To be continued...

Chapter Text

*“We are artists for life until the last drop has been shed
And true artists will always perform until their very last breath
Even within the cold and timeless theatres of death…”

****

Henrik was weightless in a sea of black, riding the current of an endless void. He was vaguely aware of a presence, darker than the abyss itself, slowly encircling him like a veil. Tendrils of hair brushed against his skin like icy silk, a skeletal hand lifting to brush his cheek. He felt an overwhelming, unfathomable sensation of terror, and yet it was muted and distant. Henrik was completely paralyzed as long, sinewy arms ensconced him in a familiar hell created entirely for him.

“My redemption, my gift to you…” It was a voice without sound or words, a deep resonance within his consciousness.

He was unable to scream as a claw clamped over his mouth, the ichor burning as it slid down his throat. His senses surfaced in a blinding supernova of agony as every nerve, every cell, ignited within the expanse of his oblivion, and then he was falling...

Henrik sat up with a strangled cry, the corporeal rushing up beneath him as the shadows lifted from his senses on sweat-dampened sheets. He was in his room, listening the gentle ticking of the wall clock, the sweet smell of cinnamon drifting from the kitchen. He waited in silence for a moment, uncertain if he was truly home… Shadows danced in the corners of the room, shimmering remnants fading back into the real.

He jerked in surprise as Tim appeared in the doorway, a genuine smile of relief on his mustached face despite looking no more rested than before.

“Good whatever! I made French toast.” Tim said, moving to sit at the foot of the bed with a hopeful expression. Henrik blinked at him wearily before nodding, absently lifting a hand to the bandage on his neck. As lucidity took it's hold, Henrik became acutely aware of the pain.

“I want to puke.” Henrik groaned.

“Well, I didn't know how much of that vegan egg substitute shit to add to the mix, but there's enough oil that the U.S will want to invade it.” Tim seemed pleased with his culinary efforts, and then began fishing through the many pockets of his shorts until he found a small cigarette case. Before Henrik could blearily form the words, ‘No smoking in the house’, Tim lit the end of a neatly rolled joint.

“Goddamnit, Tim.” Henrik whispered, closing his eyes against the throbbing in his skull. The fragrant musky scent of the herb reached his nostrils, and he couldn't help but smile at the guitarist’s inconvenient smoking habits.

“I call this strain, “Fuckit!”, my son,” Tim waved his fingers in the air and Henrik sighed. “....so I suggest you partake so you can eat and forget... or something. Fuck it. I mean, If we do have to call a priest, I want you to be relaxed.”

Henrik took a long drag and sputtered, feeling the tension dissipate slightly as the smoke filled his lungs. Tim handed him a mug of coffee, desperately trying not to be the mother hen he wanted to be at the moment and failing. He didn't want Henrik to see how terrified he was, how he wanted to run out of the house and away from everyone he'd ever associated with in this madness, but something kept him there.

“Do you mind if I take a look at that?” Tim asked, gesturing towards the bandage just above the bassist’s collarbone. He was pleasantly surprised to see the heavy bruising surrounding the wound was already gone. “We just have to make there's no infection from… yeah. You good?”

“Uh-huh…” Henrik was already substantially relaxed, and the prospect of food was finally sounding appealing despite the horror he had felt and witnessed up close. “Thank you…”

“For what?” Tim asked, raising an eyebrow as he peeled back the gauze dressing what could have only been the bite marks of a large carnivore, which was completely impossible by all the standard laws of physics, and was relieved to see that there was no signs of infection. In fact, he was healing nicely.

“For staying with me… For not telling me to go fuck myself when shit got weird.” He winced as Tim lightly touched the wound, lifting a hand to his friend's for just a moment. “I wish this had been a dream, too.”

“Well, unless the man of your dreams was a bear.. or a pig, or a--”

“ManBearPig really isn't fucking funny right now, Bollibompa.” Henrik hissed, slapping the hand away, but he couldn't help but snort as he used Tim’s nickname in jest. “Shit, I'm sorry…” He took another drag and the act of laughing and coughing caused him more pain. His muscles ached and his mind was still reeling, unable to shake the sensation of an unseen audience.

Tim cringed at the bassist's snapping tone, but nodded reassuringly. Henrik meant well, but something was happening far beyond his realm of understanding and the guitarist needed to know more. The older man had been shaken and delirious when he found him in the shower, but deliberately cryptic about what he had faced.

“I'm not in any position to judge. I wouldn't feel right leaving you to deal with this, especially when you could end up in the nitwit farm with Johannes yourself…” Tim frowned, glimpsing the long, jagged scratches that began above Henrik’s hips, the suspicious bruising, implications of such unspeakable acts that filled him with both dread and an uncontrollable rage… “I'm beginning to think you're right about Johannes, about him being innocent.”

“That doesn't help him now, Tim.” He felt the other man’s eyes on him, scouring the souvenirs that had been left by an evil he had known well before he had come to this existence. He felt vulnerable once more and drew his blanket-clad knees to his chest. “We still have to see if John’s on board, or if Kungen even wants anything to do with us, and then we have an angry ex and the entire administration of psychiatric facility to fight! Unless he learns how to teleport, he's fucked and there's nothing we can do for him.”

Tim’s face fell and he lowered his gaze to the plush carpet beneath his feet. Henrik’s righteous anger was more refreshing than the bundle of nerves he'd rescued from drowning in his own bathroom, but the hopelessness in his voice pained him. He left the room for a moment before returning with a heaping plate of toast.

“Are you trying to make me fat, you asshole?” Henrik whined, though he couldn't seem to stop himself after one bite. He caught an amused smirk from his friend and waved the fork at him warningly. Tim was not known for cooking healthy in the first place.

“You deserve it, Henrik.” Tim said, scooting over with his phone open to Hulu. “Now, we're going to binge watch ‘It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and smoke until we laugh ourselves into a state of normalcy.” He lifted a fist and Henrik weakly bumped it with his.

Despite the screaming ache in his body, as well as the strange burning sensation that begun to spread from his shoulder and throughout his veins like a toxin, Henrik couldn't will his mind to rest. His laughter at the idiot Americans on the screen of Tim’s phone was more to comfort the other man than anything. Thoughts of Johannes being tortured like he had, now confined and helpless to whatever cruel fate that had been decided for him. What if they came for Tim next?

* * Later that evening... * *

“You know you’re burning up, right?” Tim asked him after a while, and Henrik closed his eyes when he felt a calloused hand touch his face. He hadn't said anything when he felt the tremors, the chill squeezing the life from his bones.

“I'm fine… Really. Maybe we should take a ride.” He feigned his best smile, stifling a wince as he got up to dress himself. He seemed slightly off, Tim observed, fumbling with his jeans and shoes as if the simple action took more effort than necessary.

“Are you sure?” Tim began, but stopped him as he made a grab for his car keys. “Woah, woah; Maybe we should settle for a walk to start with.” Henrik seemed slightly perturbed, but Tim pocketed them quickly. “Driving under a spiritual influence seems pretty fucking dangerous.”

“You know I can't just sit on my ass and wait for this to roll over, Tim! Everything we worked for, everything we've been through... especially after you showed up, it's all over if we don't do something now!”

Tim couldn't believe his ears. “Are you seriously going to lose your mind because you want the band back together? The good ol’ days with the A-Team assembled, long tours in the Mystery Machine and lines for the bathroom and the fancy costumes... Henrik, you are in NO position to even be on your feet. Now… Sit the FUCK down!”

“It has nothing to do with just the fucking band, idiot! It has to do with all of us, the Kingdom, the end of the fucking world. If we do nothing, it's not just ending a career when we're all fucking dead!” Do you follow?!”

Tim didn't think Henrik was even capable of raising his voice like that until just then.

“Henrik…” Tim breathed, lifting a hand. “You need to calm down. You are scaring the shit out of me.” Henrik was seemingly having trouble keeping his balance as he stormed out the door, slamming it shut behind him. Tim threw on his jacket and raced out behind him in his socks.

Henrik didn't make it far, feeling the cool evening breeze caress his face, wondering how long it would be until the air was full of putrid, poisonous smoke, sucking the life out of the earth until nothing remained. He collapsed to his knees and wretched violently.

“Goddamnit, no! Henrik!” Tim screamed as he ran towards his friend, dropping beside him as he began to vomit a black ink-like substance across his front walkway. Tim grabbed him by the shoulders to keep from slumping over in his acrid sick, begging him to stay conscious.

“No, no, no. Come on, man! Don't do this to me!” Tim knew there was no one he could call, no one capable of helping Henrik now, black ichor oozing from the bassist’s mouth, his skin ashen and clammy to the touch. The guitarist's brain seemed to switch to autopilot, a rush of adrenaline giving him the strength to lift him upright as his body went slack.

“Come on, Henrik. Please stay with me.” Tim remembered his dream where he had looked into the face of death, and he wept silently as he laid his best friend onto the checkered tile of the kitchen. His breathing was becoming labored as Tim scrambled for his phone and called the only person who could help.

“John, please pick up…”

“Tim? Man, I didn't expect to be hearing from you any time soon… Why-- what the fuck is that sound?” The other man seemed surprised when he answered, as well as a little drunk. Tim didn't feel the need to waste any time, quickly turning Henrik to his side as he began to heave again.

“John, I don't have time to explain. I'm at Henrik’s and… Something’s happened to him and we both think it has to do with Johannes! You're the only one I can talk to. Please, just... Get over here as soon as you fucking can!”

“Wait, what about Johannes? What did he do?!” John sounded confused, and rightfully so as Henrik began to sieze, Tim dropped the phone to the floor as if it never existed, gripping the bassist’s arm tightly as convulsions began to rip through his body. A terrible sound gurgled from deep in his throat like a low growl.

“Tim? Tim!” John's voice could faintly be heard emanating from the phone's speaker as Tim screamed for his friend, gripping him tight until his spasms ceased.

“No, Henrik… Please.” Tim whimpered, turning Henrik onto his back. He wasn't moving, nor was he breathing. He hurriedly felt his wrist for a pulse, but there was nothing. He attempted CPR, gagging at the wretched burning stench of the ichor, more like tar than blood. He desperately tried to breathe life back into his lungs, but there was nothing more he could do.

He was beyond tears now, holding Henrik’s hand in his as he felt the warmth leave his still flesh. Henrik didn't ask for this, driven only by his desire to stand up for someone he considered family, against something that he, nor any of them could possibly comprehend, and now he was gone.

Tim stayed with him until he saw lights shining through the front windows, headlights from a car pulling into the drive. He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt when he heard John’s signature pounding knock on the door. He had covered Henrik’s face with his jacket, not wanting John to see his terrifying last moments just yet.

“Tim, what the fuck is going on?” John called from inside the front door, and then there was an audible clunk and the sound of glass breaking before Tim heard the drummer charge into the kitchen behind them. He felt John drop to his knees beside him, staring at the corpse with an expression of sheer disbelief.

“Tim… Wh-What is this? What happened to him?!” The guitarist turned to his friend and former employer, studying the man's bright green eyes as he chose his words carefully. Instead, he pulled back the jacket. John gagged, bringing a hand to his mouth before jerking himself to his feet again.

“Tim, can I bum a smoke?” was the only thing John could ask.

Tim complied without arguing the fact that John had quit smoking for years now, gesturing towards the back door before the two of them stepped outside. The night was cool and silent, no neighbors in earshot to overhear them as they stood with dazed expressions in a cloud of tobacco smoke.

“Why didn't you call the fucking police, Tim?” John finally asked the guitarist, taking a deep drag.

“What happened to him wasn't something a fucking doctor could fix, John…” Tim replied, narrowing his eyes. “He asked me to look at something, a video from the night Johannes attacked Kungen, and he saw something with him… We both did! Something made Johannes push him, and then it sent something else to attack Henrik!”

John just stared at him, and Tim could see him take a slow, tentative step back. The words he spat seemed mad even to his own ears, and he couldn't blame the drummer for reacting, albeit poorly.

“What the fuck are you talking about? Is this some fucking game to you?!”

“It attacked him, John. There's wounds on his neck that look like they were done by some animal, something with big fucking teeth. The windows were locked and nothing was missing. How do you explain that to anyone?”

“I don't know why you brought me here then, Tim...” John tossed his cigarette to the ground, snuffing the smoldering cherry beneath the toe of his shoe. He buried his face in his hands, sliding down the side of the house that had belonged to his friend, now dead in the kitchen. “Can you just give me a minute?”

Tim sighed and nodded, deciding it better to not press the issue in case John decided to contact the authorities, regardless of the very unnatural cause of the death in question. He left him alone with his grief, stepping back into the darkened home with a heavy heart. He saw a sillhouette crouched over the body, long tangles of hair obscuring sharp, curving features. Eyes glittered green in the darkness, and Tim could see the familiar clawed hand, deathly white with curving black talons stroking the dead man’s hair.

“You! Get the fuck away from him!” Tim screamed. He grabbed a knife from the block on the counter, charging towards the creature without a care of what might happen to him. The knife cut only air, and he fell against an island, turning to see the creature standing behind him.

Ardek tilted his head with an an amused curiosity at the guitarist’s suffering, his fear and rage surging from him in a brilliant aura of pulsing red and gold. Tim was not yet aware of this as he began to hyperventilate, and he raised the knife again. The demon saw a genuine threat, but his orders were clear…

“Save your tears, my friend.” The creature hissed. “You'll regret them soon enough.”

“Tim, what is that?!” John’s voice wavered from behind him, and Tim turned to see his friend’s frightened face, white as paper and eyes wide. When he turned back, the entity was gone.

“That's the fucker that did this to Henrik,” Tim sneered, tossing the useless weapon into the sink. “That's what killed him. And it's only part part of what started this. Johannes didn't hurt Kungen and you know that!”

“Dude, I can't handle this right now.” John raised his hands, and Tim was terrified he would be alone again. John shook his head, stifling tears with anger as he slammed his fist against the wall. He did it again, before glaring hatefully at Tim, but the young guitarist saw nothing but anguish in his jade green eyes.

Tim hesitated a moment before he approached the drummer, wrapping him in a warm embrace. John didn't fight him, returning the gesture and laying his head on the guitarist's trembling shoulder.

“I'm so sorry, John. I didn't know who else to call.”

John nodded before stepping back, resting a hand on Tim’s arm. He looked about as haggard as the other felt, but neither of them would be sleeping for some time.

“You did what you had to do, and… I'm glad you can still trust me after the way I handled things.”

“Let's be real. You were a total asshole.” Tim said matter-of-factly, a weary smile turning the corners of his mouth. He sighed, giving the man’s arm a pat before deciding to address what to do with the body of their friend on the floor. They both froze, however, when they turned to see Henrik was gone.

“What the hell…?”

“Where the fuck did he go?!”

The sound of a faucet turning made the two of them jump out of their skins. His heart pounding, Tim quickly retrieved the knife and began to slowly creep towards the washroom down the hall from the kitchen. John wasn't too far behind, carefully stepping over the large black puddle that was smeared across the tile where the bassist had been.

The door was slightly ajar, the light switched off so that neither of the men could see what waited behind, but they kept on. Tim could feel John’s grip the back of his sleeve, and despite not wanting to put the other in danger, he remained silent as he lifted a hand to push the door open.

He switched on the light and promptly fell back into John, who in turn hit the adjacent wall behind him. Viscous, inky residue dripped down the sides of the sink basin, the pungeant bouquet of death and lavender permeating in the small enclosure. He was standing in front of the mirror, scrubbing the black filth from his face, and while there was a glimmer of hope that they would see their old friend again, the reflection in the mirror was anything but human.

Henrik turned to them, confusion in eyes that seemed too bright to be natural, scarlet encircling the iris. His skin was too pale, lips blue with his hair matted with ichor and wild around his face, dripping down his chin. He was trembling violently, and he was still very much dead.

“Hey… Hey, guys.” He smiled, dusky lips peeling back to reveal long, curving teeth. “John, when did you get here?”

****

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Whorish desire sentenced with the punishment of fire
Repulsive temptress in white prepare to die
And kiss thy pale, warm skin goodbye

Hör mir zu!
Dein Fleisch ist in meiner welt verboten
Du solst tanzen im Schattenreich, dem Land der Toten!

* * *

[ Namtar’s POV ]

I could feel the atmosphere shudder as the boy’s cries of suffering rang out within the construct of the veil, tasting the rich, coppery tang of blood and fear on my slithering tongue. I moved freely through the darkened, empty halls like twisting smoke, creating doors and stairways as I saw fit. The walls had began to crumble, tearing jagged fissures through his psyche as my Master's pet began his descent.

The tremulous sorrow resonated along the length of a courtyard separating two tall stone structures, overgrown with thick snares of black ivy, infection blossoming in their strangling grasp in the world created by human sickness. I heard a voice, sweet and ethereal as it creeped along the snaring tendrils of consciousness in the wind. I moved forward until I saw her.

Pages lined the dingy walls above her bed, scribbled text and lines marring each sheet as she'd attacked the paper without rhyme or reason, but when hung together in a haphazard mosaic became a puzzle of spiraling runes and ancient text. She sat with her legs crossed in front of the window she'd conjured with pencil and scratch paper, her sea green eyes obscured by wild auburn curls. Fascinated, I dared to touch her mind and found myself in the embrace of a darkness I'd never known. The taste of her pain was exquisite and I needed to learn more of its beauty.

A fearful sound parted her full lips as I began to break through the barrier that separated us, a double-sided mirror camouflaged to weak human eyes. I saw her scramble to her feet, diving to the other corner of the room she had been locked in. She cowared, beautiful sounds of terror coming in frenetic waves as she buried her face in her hands.

“They said you weren't real. They said you were just in my head!” She was sobbing, and I felt great sadness for this tiny, pathetic creature, becoming even smaller as she curled herself into a ball. She feared death for the first time since her own kind abandoned her here. It was true that most mortal eyes that had fallen on my face would see their own heart torn from their chest soon after, but I rather enjoyed the sound of hers beating instead.

“Are you here to kill me?” She moaned, and I felt endeared by her ignorance. She had no idea what she had done, summoning me from the void by her own hands. I crept forward until I was front of her, and she wailed as I knelt to inhale her scent, her dark curls blissfully soft against my face.

I could have freed her from her suffering in bondage, could have slit her throat with a gentle glide of my taloned finger and watched those beautiful, haunted eyes fade as she bled out quickly. Instead, I lightly touched her face, careful not to cut.

“No, I am a friend…” I hissed in her ear, watching her shudder as she was siezed by a sudden cold chill. She couldn't struggle even if she had wanted to, paralyzed as she gazed upon my wings, the barbed tips brushing the narrow walls of the cell.

“Are… Are you an angel?” She whispered hopefully. I tilted my head, feeling a subtle pang of desire as she reached up to touch my pale hair, as if to be certain I was real. I laughed at her question, a rumbling growl to her ears, listening patiently as the pounding of her heart slowed and her energy relaxed.

“No, Lauren. I am not… I'm not anything like that.”

I was nothing like my elder brother, Ardek, who I'd always known to have a habit of breaking the toys he'd captured through the reaches of time. His objective had been to kill the King’s second commanding officer, but had turned and claimed his new pet before he became truly aware of his fate.

This was a lonely being, cast out by her cruel brethren when a dance through her mind spoke of brilliant potential stifled by her world, and they had numbed her until she was blind to her power. I could not allow her to convalesce here alone, moving closer to wrap her small, trembling form in my arms.

My Master’s reign would soon begin anew, his shadow cast upon the world as it suffocated and writhed at his feet. Flowers would wither and die, and I would tend to the last roses in the garden.

****

[ Johannes’ POV ]

I stared at my hands as I waited, my wrists zip-tied together as a special precaution, requested by the ward’s administrators after my latest tizzy fit. Despite the bandages wrapping my forearms to protect the wounds I'd inflicted upon myself, the plastic was slowly cutting into my skin. Even as I stretched and worried at my bonds, the pain I longed for felt so far away.

The nights secluded and tied down had begun to take their toll as I became more and more restless in my prone state. Powerful sedatives and hourly suicide checks were diligently enforced, and sleep would not come easily with the beam of a flashlight ripping though the darkness as I would finally begin to doze.

Sometimes he came, whistling as he held the bright cylinder of light in my face longer than necessary. Sometimes he would simply check my vitals and administer medication, and sometimes he would come closer and do much more…

My will to fight had died when they wouldn't allow me to, and I wanted nothing more than to be free of my prison of flesh. All I felt felt was an aching void, longing for the embrace of a loved one I knew would never come. I took the abuse without complaint, and he would whisper in my ear afterwards, telling me I was lucky that anyone would want to touch such a filthy creature.

The good doctor had done me a solid as far as ommiting certain details from his report, keeping to his word in mentioning nothing about my unsupervised wandering and declaring my attempted assault as an involuntary reaction, which was only partially true. Amidst the diverse array of miscarried flesh rotting at the bottom of the gene pool that was Brookhaven, Dr. Droomers shone like a diamond amongst shit.

I knew full well that kindness came at a cost, long before I was branded as a monster and before I painted my face to become one for the stage. There had been a time where the black and red grin of The Clown had made packed venues and amphitheaters scream for me in both joy and wonder, and now the sight of me brought only fearful glances, scowls of disgust and hatred.

The media had been quick to skew a story of a damaged recluse, jealous of the fame and glory that had swept the guitarist into the echelons of musical legends, driving the psychotic clown to stalk his obsession until it had become a cheap TV drama on paper… Such bullshit!

I had never been happier to see him receive the recognition he had been working towards for so long, always grateful to be in his presence, and he had been nothing but gracious. Memories of his warmth and his friendship left me feeling cold and empty, and the sorrow always came soon after…

“Johannes, are you ready?*

I looked up to see Dr. Droomers in the doorway of his office, impeccably dressed as always. He nodded to the orderly that was standing watch to my left, who began to argue with the doctor until Droomers assured his subordinate that his presence in the session would not be needed. I was genuinely surprised that he would agree to continue our sessions as my therapist, thinking my outburst might have driven him out like others before him. I hesitantly studied his soft hazel eyes, searching for the hatred and fear I had come to expect in this life, but still found none.

“Are you feeling better? I was concerned I may have harmed you.” He gestured to the light bruising on my neck, mainly due to my struggle to break free from his grip and attack him again. I blinked, surprised again by his genuine concern and nodded meekly.

“Yeah, uh… I think I should be apologizing to you, though.”

“All is forgiven. Clearly, the topic was too heavy for youur mind to process, and so you reacted accordingly to protect those memories...” He smiled, and that simple gesture nearly brought tears to my eyes. I felt a pang of longing, but managed to collect myself enough to take a seat at his desk.

“It wasn't that I didn't want to talk about it… I-” The coarse, cheap material of the bandages made my arms itch furiously, yet the plastic ties prevented any hope of relief. I bit my lip and silenced any complaints, as I was already in enough discomfort just being in this man's presence. “I know it's fucking me up. It's eating me alive. The dreams are getting worse and I… I can't do it anymore.”

“Can you tell me about your dreams, at least?” Droomers asked in his deep, smoothing voice. I appreciated how he was quick to the point, but I would have rather listened to him speak instead, anything to take my mind off the fact that I was truly alone.

“I don't how to explain them…” I whispered, fidgeting in my chair. I'm always running, and something is chasing me, and somehow it feels so familiar.” I glanced up, feeling like a timid child. But sometimes I dream about him…”

“About Kungen?* He saw the answer in my eyes. “Do you see him as your King, the one you spoke of when we brought you in?”

“Y-yes…” I whispered, remembering dreams that felt like more than dreams, visions of a noble leader with a woven mane of gold flowing around his head as he weld his great axe in battle, a savior of those whose hearts he touched and souls he freed from death and despair. I thought of the doctor's question before my failed attempt to silence him.

“I- I I loved him… More than anything. And every moment that I'm here, every day that goes by without him, the further away I feel from everything else. I think it's killing me.” And I knew it was.

Droomers arched an eyebrow quizzically, lifting his chin from where it rested in the palm of his hand. There was an expression of mild surprise on his face as he registered my confession, and I cringed at myself for giving it away so freely.

“And by love, you mean more than just-”

“Exactly what you think it means. It's not as stupid as it fucking sounds, but I feel-.” I felt my hackles raising again and bit my lip hard to quell the violent thoughts. “Even before we started playing music together, when he was the fucked up troubled kid in school and I was just some awkward nerd playing the trombone, before I kissed him in front of 10,000 people on a goddamn whim, before we created Avatar Country together…” I sighed. “He was always The King to me…”

The tears I'd held back for so long seemed to all come forth at once as the words I had written for my lost King haunted me with their whispered melodies.

Droomers leaned forward, waiting patiently as the emotion seeped from me like a slow bleed. I felt the void inside of me, vacuous and crushing and I was choking in it. His voice was gentle, breaking through my darkness. He couldn't possibly comprehend what I felt in that moment and he didn't pretend to.

“I truly can't imagine how alone you must feel right now...”

“No,” I agreed, my voice distant to my own ears as I slowly stood from my chair. “You couldn't possibly, not with your runway good looks, a few medical degrees under your belt and your first world problems….”

“And just what do you think you're doing, Johannes?” The doctor asked me as I circled around his desk.

The grey light fluttering through the window enhanced the brilliant hue of his eyes, now a shimmering jade flecked with gold. I could smell his cologne now as I stood in front him, remembering the sweet earthy scent as he'd restrained me, protected me from myself.

“I need your help…” I breathed, my voice wavering like that of a frightened child. He flinched slightly as I lifted my bound wrists, careful not to make any sudden movements as I reached to touch his hair, so soft beneath my trembling fingers. I could see that his guard was up, and yet he made no move to subdue me again...

“That's why you're here,” The doctor said, his tone weary as he continued to watch me closely. His skin was so soft, his voice hypnotic. “You know you can talk to me about anything, and I promised I would do anything to help you.” The void screamed within me, an emptiness that threatened to consume me alive, and I needed something, anything to drown the sorrow.

I whimpered, a strangled sound escaping my lips. I wanted to believe him, wanted to trust someone in this rotting cesspool of human filth. I looped my arms around his head, leaning over until our faces were close. He still wasn't afraid, and this frustrated me further.

“I need you…” i growled, sliding into his lap without warning. His eyes widened slightly as a swung my legs over his, straddling his hips with my hands planted firmly on the back of his neck.

“Johannes, stop and think about what you're doing… Right now.” The doctor’s voice was low, warning me that he was well prepared to retaliate, be it by his forehead to my nose or a barrage of fists to my ribs, but we both knew better. He knew I would have already attacked him by now if that were my intention. Unlike the majority of the staff running this shithole, he wasn't a fucking idiot.

“I've had nothing but time to think, doc. That's the problem...” I kissed him roughly, forcing his head back as I claimed his lips. I could feel his hands on my shoulders, squeezing tight as if he was preparing to throw me off. I jerked my hips against his with a snarl, already hard at the sensation of being so close to him, tasting his sweet skin, subduing the emptiness even for just a second.

He forced his head to the side with a gasp, but his grip on my shoulders remained. He glared at me reproachfully before sliding a muscular arm around my narrow waist. I closed my eyes, sighing blissfully at his strength as he held me firmly in place.

“I let you off with a warning when I found you behind my office the other day, and I could have made it a hell of a lot worse for you after you mauled yourself, then attempted to attack me… Are you aware of what you're doing right now?”

“I am completely fucking lucid, Dennis.” I sneered, bending my neck to trace the sharp curviture of his jawline with my tongue, across the subtle lines that gave him his almost exotic beauty. I couldn't stop myself, nipping at his earlobe while his hand drifted lower.

“I can't stand it anymore…” I rasped in his ear, bucking harder against him. His hand gripped the curve of my ass, sneering as he squeezed roughly. “Empty shells in windowless rooms, forgotten and left to die by the world that created us… It's so dark in the shadows, so cruel and lonely…”

His cheeks were flushed, breathing clipped as he brought his other hand to rest on my cheek. He hissed defiantly, only pushing me away enough to could look at me directly.

“Listen to me, Johannes… I'm not here to take advantage--”

“But that little piece of shit you employed did,” I snapped, growling as I held on to him tighter. He frowned, and I saw genuine sadness. “He waits until I'm good and loopy and takes me for a little stroll... He didn't let me have a choice, but I've made mine now.”

When I kissed him again, he surprised me by returning my desperate gesture. His grip on my back had relaxed, his hand sliding up and down my side.

“Johannes, I have two patients waiting after our session… I-I know you're in pain. Your guilt is tormenting you--”

“Fuck you and your bullshit psychobabble.” I hissed and stood, lifting my zip-tied arms from his broad shoulders. He blinked up at me in confusion, and for brief a moment, I admired the damage I'd inflicted on his neat and stoic facade before dropping to my knees in front of him. “I know nobody gives a shit whether I live or die unless they want something first. I can see it in their goddamn faces, and you've been so kind to me…”

“Johannes, no… What the hell do you take me for?!” He dropped his hands to my shoulders, preventing me from coming any closer, but nothing more to deter me. I growled, tossing his arms aside and grabbing him by the front of his shirt.

“I'm nothing like them…”

I could see the conflict burning in his eyes, torn between wanting me permanently isolated and bound in the jacket or fucking me like an animal on his desk. I raised an eyebrow at his hesitation, testing his boundaries further as my hands slid down his torso and between his toned legs, grinned wickedly as my fingers brushed his generous arousal.

“You can't lie to me after I poured out my goddamn heart to you, Droomers.” I snarled, stroking him roughly through the denim of his stupid stone-washed designer jeans. When I began to fumble with his belt, one of his hands siezed mine. I winced in pain and smiled simultaneously, impressed at the crushing strength of his grip.

“Are you sure you want this? You don't have to if you feel forced-” He groaned. I tilted my head, imploring him silently, my need for his touch becoming unbearable. Still holding me in place, his other hand made quick work of the buckle and undid his fly in one fluid motion. I shivered, not sure whether to feel terrified or exhilarated.

“I'll make it quick… I'll make it good.” I whispered, making up for my lack of experience and the genuine intimidation I felt from his size by the overwhelming desire to please him. I bit lightly at his thighs, reminding him of what could happen if he tried anything, but the thought of being torn open made me shiver with anticipation as I took him in my mouth.

I heard him gasp, his hands lifting to rest on either side of my head. My wrists were now aching from being bound, the hard plastic edges digging painfully into the wounds beneath, and it was the most incredible sensation while he stroked my hair.

“Fuck, you feel so good!” He hissed, tightening his grasp in my hair. He rolled his hips upward so that I could take more of him, tasting him in the back of my throat and submitting to him without a shred of shame.

I could feel his back arching and muscles tensing, his breathy sighs and murmured obscenities increasing in frequency. I made good use of my tongue, once a weapon of poetry and wit, now used to fight a much different battle for survival. I had knelt in reverence to another, but that war was lost and I had already surrendered...

I wanted him to destroy me, needed his possessive touch like a spike in my vein, one last perfect high to chase until there was was nothing left of me but perfect oblivion.

Stifling back a hoarse scream, the good doctor clamped his hands down around my skull, savagely fucking my mouth until I felt his body shuddering above and climax seized him. I closed my eyes, feeling my own release charging over the precipice without even touching him, taking it all until he was finished.

He smoothed the sweat-dampened waves of hair from his face, his olive skin flushed from exertion as he momentarily reclined to catch his breath. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, suddenly grateful for the shower that was waiting for me later that evening. I felt a twisted sense of belonging, curled up at his feet like a cherished pet, and I almost purred when he bent down to kiss me again.

The clock on the wall read six minutes to 16:00, not nearly enough time for him to enact the beautiful and sadistic things I could see in his eyes as he surveyed me hungrily. His hands were calloused as they lightly caressed my face, certainly not the prim and spoiled man I had initially taken him for. He was powerful, capable of so much violence, and I wanted to feel every blow of his wrath as I laid my head on his lap.

“I think we made significant progress in our session today, Mr. Eckerström.” He breathed, and I could feel the restraint in his touch, taking in his warmth while I still had it in my reach. Most of our time spent here had been his silent acceptance of my tears, for which I was grateful.

“Can I see you again tomorrow?” I asked him as he straightened and adjusted himself accordingly. It took him so little effort to appear so perfect, and I resented him mildly for that.

He helped me to my feet, and I realized with some amusement that I still towered over him as I did the vast majority of the poor bastards under this roof. Behind his desk and from a distance, even as I had given myself to him willingly, he seemed larger than life in a way.

“I'm afraid I'm booked for the next two days or so, but... I'll see if I can't schedule you in sooner.” I couldn't hide my disappointment, and neither could he. Droomers placed a hand on my shoulder reassuringly as we resumed some monicker of a healthy, professional relationship. “I can still feel those bones, my friend. You're not going to have any chance of outdoor privileges if you can't keep on some weight. Then again, you could always fly over the cuckoo's nest via a stray wind!”

“You think I can't throw a sink through a window?” I scuffed jokingly.

I hated how much I liked him, how beautiful he was when he laughed. He escorted me to the door, where the orderly was waiting outside with his nose in his iPhone. I glanced down at my arms, where blood was beginning to seep through the bandages beneath the plastic ties. The orderly saw this and dropped a hand to the radio on his belt when Droomers stopped him.

“It's fine, Loomis. He just scratched it by accident. Take him to the nurse to have those cuts looked at, and maybe try not to have those restraints so goddamn tight.”

He gave me a small smirk before calling in his next patient, and I felt another stirring of desire as I was lead away towards another part of the hospital, oblivious to the pain of my wounds.

****

Later that evening, when the overhead lights automatically clicked off for the night and I was safely strapped down for what I’d hoped would be my last time in isolation, my thoughts were restless. Fear became paranoia as my mind drifted to Droomers, that charismatic son of a bitch…

I was worried that his charming smile and piercing eyes would be my undoing, as if l there was always something unsettling lurking behind a beautiful mask. I'd fallen prey to his cool hands on my skin, the domineering strength he held over me while I was in his presence. It would have been so easy for him to lock me in here forever, and all he had to do was sign the paper.

He could have been no better than the rest of the two-faced predators that had fucked me over throughout this life, and it was clear that I must have done something to deserve it in the one before. I knew I had taken lives, their blood forever stained on my soul, but I wasn't sure how. I did not want to be the monster that they painted me as, but I'd created my own demon with his mad clown grin and He had ruined everything.

“Take responsibility for your own shit…” I whispered to myself as the sedatives began to take effect, the numbing lull of sleep creeping up beneath me from the padded slab I was tethered to. I began to drift when I heard a loud, metallic click.

My first thoughts were of dread, and I kept my eyes closed with the hope that this wasn't his shift. I'd already lost track with the increased dose in two of my medications, struggling to feign sleep as I heard footsteps approach me.

Every hour I spent awake in here, I feared the inevitable taunts and abuse, but now I heard only silence, felt a presence looming over me in a moment that seemed to stretch on forever. For just an instant, I felt afraid. It was a primal fear that made me want to scream and thrash against my bonds until I died trying to escape, but then I smelled his cologne.

I felt his calloused hand against my face, hushing me softly as I became aware of his weight at the edge of the narrow bed. He hadn't abandoned me, hadn't left me to be brutalized and consumed by my cyclical nightmare of regret.

“Dennis… You came to see me.” I whispered, smiling blearily in my drugged state.

“I couldn't stop thinking about you, Johannes.” The doctor’s voice was a whisper, his large hand drifting to my neck, tracing his fingers down to the sharp lines of my pronounced collarbone. “You're too special for this place, too good to be chained up like an animal for the rest of your life.”

I briefly wondered if this was a dream, if I was still just as alone as I was meant to be. I could feel the cool metal of his rings against the flesh of my stomach. His hand stopped just above the waistband of my pants, and I could feel him studying me in the dark.

“Please…” I moaned weakly, and I thought I could see his eyes reflecting an unknown light, the slightest glow of embers in a grinning skull. He unfastened the restraints around my ankles, and I felt his weight shift as he knelt in front of me. My heart was pounding when I felt his hands curling around the calves of my legs.

“Are you sure this is what you want? I need your permission...” His voice was strained. I could hear his resolve crumbling into that of a hungry beast. He was in the perfect position to simply take what he wanted and I was ready to be the sacrifice, and yet here he was, asking for my blessing.

I chuckled, as amused as I was aroused. “Yes…. I give you permission to rip me apart.”

He said nothing in response to my answer. I blinked up at the ceiling for another moment before I opened my mouth to ask why, but then my pants and the threadbare fabric beneath was torn from my legs and I felt his weight on top of me. I gasped in surprise, and he silenced me with his lips.

“I hope you'll understand that I'll need to keep your arms restrained, just as a precaution.” He hissed against my mouth. I did.

I felt his hands all over, caressing and stroking me, his tongue exploring my mouth as he ground his hips hard between my bare legs. He was not gentle with me, and he knew that's how I liked it. I growled as I saw his sillhouetted figure lean back on his legs, heard him pleasuring himself momentarily as he observed my shameful and vulnerable state for a moment.

He lunged and I felt his broad hand clamp over my mouth, preventing me from screaming as he forced himself inside of me with a violent thrust of his hips. Tears welled in my eyes, my head falling back against the pillow as he stretched me open wide. The agony was exquisite as I howled against his palm, endorphines sparking a wildfire in his possessive steel trap embrace.

“Such a strange, intriguing creature….” Dennis growled, sliding his hips back to impale me again. I felt his tongue against my neck, his teeth grazing the skin. I moaned his name through his hand, curling my long legs around his well-muscled flank while his other hand reached between us to tend to my need.

I wanted so badly to touch him, to feel the chestnut waves of his hair beneath my hands, but I let his do the work. He held me against the thin mattress, jerking me off while he had his way with me in savage crescending waves. I felt my mind drift away in the currents, giving myself to him to feel free.

And for just a moment, I was free. I felt a chill carrying the scent of atunmnal leaves, shivering against the cool, smooth stone against my back. I lifted my hands, blind in this near-darkness as my fingers brushed the sharp, jagged spires of the crown atop his head, my breath catching as moved to touch his face, tracing skeletal curves and briefly the pointed curve of carnivorous teeth.

“What are you?” I asked as he lifted his hand from my mouth, shuddering at the sensation of five glinting blades instead of fingers gingerly drifting down my exposed neck.

There had been a time before, in a life I wasn't meant to remember, where I bore a crest of red and gold as I wielded my blades in battle. The lion had been my symbol of hope, carrying the noble likeness of a great ruler, but the old King's reign was over and I swore alliegence only to him.

I touched the cool steel of armor, plated sheets of a strange metal twisting down his strong arms, and the power radiating from him was indescribable. My hand found his against my neck, long and skeletal fingers that had peeled flesh from bone and eviscerated those who had dared to defy him.

He was a living weapons capable of the most beautiful destruction, and I thanked him for sparing me with a whispered prayer, a strange language I couldn't understand as even it flowed from my lips. His grip on me tightened, a growl in his throat that was more beast than man as he rolled his hips faster.

I could feel the wind shifting, the atmosphere becoming unsettled as if it sensed something cataclysmic heading this way. In the dark room that had become more of a chapel in a dreary wooded landscape, far beyond the realm of the hospital that held me prisoner, the twisting, spiraling words I whispered came faster. I had no control over the lilting notes, and there was part of me that dreaded to think about what their meaning. I felt the millions of interwoven threads of reality beginning to fray, multifaceted layers of worlds within worlds shuddering as a sickness was unleashed.

I heard his voice snarling my name, surrendered to his chaos in my chant, and then I was somewhere else. I saw myself from far away, as if I'd left my body somewhere far away and long ago. I saw myself standing amidst the carnage of battle, blood liberally soaking the parched black soil and smoldering remains strewn around my booted feet. Gore dripped from snares of barbed wire wrapped around the heavy hammer in my hands.

My other self was suited in armor of obsidian black, spiraling silver runes and scripture etched into the shimmering metallic surface. The platinum blond hair flowing over his shoulders was a stark contrast to the dark regalia and the vibrant scarlet and black war paint upon his pale face. It was my face.

He turned then, his back to my astral self as he dropped to one knee in reverence as a greater darkness drifted from across the wasteland towards him. His weapon was resting beside him on the tainted ground, forgotten as another form rose from the swirling black mist. Lesser men of sound minds would have torn their eyes from their sockets in the presence of the looming shadow, its smoldering gaze burning into the blood stained soldier.

The other half of me was not afraid, his painted grin widening as he extended a gloved hand to the entity. There was a rogue gust of wind as it suddenly moved closer to my pale reflection, wrapping him into its billowing cloak of a dark and turbulent matter. The man leaned into the embrace of a demon that had brought this plague upon the world, and then they were both gone in the inky black mist receded.

Was this the fate that waited for me? Was I to be taken from one prison to a strange, desolate reality creeping just beneath the surface? I longed a death that would never come, but now I was no longer afraid. I was safe so long as I was his.

“Thank you, Johannes… Thank you for letting me in.”

Reality came flooding back in pulsating waves of pain and pleasure, the last vestiges of that lucid dream burning faintly within sigils and spiraling text of the same ancient dialect I had seen enscribed upon my shadow self. They fizzled and faded into nothingness and I realized my hands were still strapped to the bed, white-knuckling the edges of the thin, dirty mattress when I came in his hand with a piercing howl.

The doctor’s release wasn't long after, his breath escaping in feverish snarls against the perspiration-slick flesh of my neck. He buried himself deeper and deeper inside of me, gripping both of my legs in his dangerous hands as his climax tore through my tethered, helpless form.

“Dennis…” I whimpered, feeling him shudder against me momentarily until we there was only silence between us. He stroked my hair gently as I struggled to catch my breath, and I felt his lips brush against my forehead before he was gone from the bed.

“I would hope that you could keep this between us.” He said, and I blinked through the dark as I heard the clink of his belt as he dressed himself quickly. “That is, if you would like me to continue our visits between sessions... If you help me to help you, I assure you that these restraints will be a thing of the past.”

“Y-yes! Please don't go!” I gasped, suddenly panicked at the thought of not being able to see him again, but he was there beside me in the dark, his hand falling to grasp mine. I didn't want to be alone, not after the disembodied dream of riding on waves of shadow as I was swallowed into Oblivion.

“Oh, Johannes…” He whispered soothingly. “You know I can't… You will see me again soon, I promise.”"

He stayed with me for a just a while longer, however, even temporarily unfastening the restraints around my wrists so I could dress myself and stretch my legs. My hips were exceedingly sore, and I winced as I sipped at the cup of water he'd brought me, leaning my head against his hand and savoring those last few moments. After he secured me again, making sure the straps were snug enough not to hurt, I felt his lips on mine again and he left.

I tried to resist sleep, feeling more conflicted than I ever had in my life, but the shadows weighed down my consciousness and I gave in. I saw snow falling, felt their icy kiss against my cheeks, and I briefly wondered if the King was dreaming, too.

*****

To be continued…

Chapter Text

“Death coloured bliss, breathless last kiss
Last wave to the shore
A tragic scent of freedom
Blue in the face
And it blew me away…”

[ lyrics: Turpentine by Oceans of Slumber ]

* * * *

[ Kungen's POV

I barely felt the rain as it fell hard against my face, splashing against the wet soil beneath my bleeding head. The sudden impact had left me in shock, now staring numbly up into a gaping black sky, clouds swirling and thunder screaming with the wrath of the Gods themselves.

Two storeys above me, a warm glow began to fade in and out of focus, but then I saw his tall silhouette standing in the splintered frame of the shattered window. I tried moving my arm, but the agony that that tore from my throat in a scream and threatened to take me under told me it was broken in at least three places. I blinked the crimson tinged rainwater from my eyes and then the shadow was gone.

Moments felt like hours until I heard him again, turning my head towards the sound of well-polished boots gracefully striding towards me, colorful shards of glass crunching beneath the treads of his feet. His expression was solemn beneath The Clown's perpetual grimace, a flash of lighting illuminating his black and red painted face just long enough for me to see the depths of madness in his blue eyes. A blade hung at his side in a wavering grip.

“P-Please, Johannes… No.” I gurgled, tasting copper in my throat.

He slowly brought a finger to his painted lips, his spindly hands and the lacy cuffs of his dress shirt splattered in blood. His stage costume and jester grin gave him the appearance of a possessed doll cut free from its strings, large teeth glinting in his mouth like the long knife he now held above my chest.

I shook my head earnestly, pleading with him to let me go. I felt the shock ebbing and then I screamed, the sensation of my insides being shredded into sinewy ribbons when I tried to crawl from him. Groaning in pain, I managed to glance down and saw the splintered point protruding from my abdomen, dark blood welling dangerously from the wound where the piece of wood had pierced me.

“Please…. Stop struggling. I have to do this!” His voice was a whisper in my ear, and I could see the tears amidst the torrent of rainfall as he knelt down to kiss my forehead. In the turbulence of his eyes was a tempest far greater than the one that raged above, flashes of sadness and regret, of pain and an unhinged desire.

“They were wrong about you, my lord.” He cried, his deep voice cracking on the edge of hysteria. He readied the blade, his hands trembling. “You are the everlasting. You are the infinite. My love for my King is Eternal… And by the Grace of the Owl Mother, My King will live forever...”

He thrust the knife down suddenly, the cold steel slicing through flesh, between ribs, and deep into the pulsing muscle of my heart. I felt my eyes widen as time seemed to slow, the heavy droplets of rain decelerating their downward momentum towards the earth, lightning coming in slow, strobing flickers rather than quick bursts of white. I was dying at the hands of a man I once trusted with my darkest secrets, one of my oldest friends, and I could feel every last excruciating second stretching before me.

I could still taste the blood on my tongue before I saw it streaming from my own lips, parted slightly in surprise and slowly turning blue. I saw the light of my eyes fade as the life left. I was drifting, reaching out with hands that weren't there as I saw myself, or what I had been, sprawled out in a lurid kaleidoscope of broken glass and blood-tainted mud.

There was a disembodied sensation of pressure, and I felt the knife leave my chest as he pulled it from my still form. I could taste salt as he wept over me, reaching down with a bloody hand to touch my white face drifting further away. The sting of betrayal and the fear of death left with my fading consciousness and my suffering and I felt only sadness for Johannes.

As the world I knew drifted further out of focus, the scenery stretching outward like a wide-angle lense, I no longer saw with eyes tethered to a single form. Before the veil tore open into the dark reaches of death, I heard the sound of sirens, a warped, mournful echo within the fading construct. Red and blue lights shimmered from across the sodden landscape, shining like millions of tiny prisms through each drop of rain. I heard his voice then, strangled with sorrow and clear as day around me:

“Please forgive me, my King… I had no choice. He made me do it.” And then I felt the brush of steel like a cool breath as he lifted the knife to his own throat.

Unable to cry out to him, the last thing I felt was regret.

The world lifted away like a stage curtain for the headliner of the ages, the greatest show on Earth. I fell through an expanse of stars and galaxies, became part of them, communed with them, and I saw the universe and its infinite layers from a million perspectives at once.

I fell to my knees then, the sand cold and black beneath my hands. The alien landscape stretched on forever around me without a tree or mountain in sight, an empty wasteland with a dark, starless sky and a faintly smoldering line of red glowing along the horizon. I blinked wearily, staring down at my body, whole and unharmed despite being left to rot in another plane. I brushed away a stray dreadlock from my face, which felt very real.

Where the fuck am I?” I asked aloud, genuinely surprised to hear my own voice in the still air. My breath escaped in thick plumes of vapor, yet I didn't feel cold, or anything else for that matter. The air was as still and dead as I was and yet there was a building sense of dread as I wondered if this was to be my eternity. Without any other choice, I started walking.

It could have been minutes, weeks or days that passed, but my legs had yet to tire and there was still the same endless expanse ahead and behind me. I heard his voice again, and he sounded frightened now, fading in and out like static frequencies.

“I- I had to make you understand who you are… There isn't much time, and I don't expect your forgiveness, but I need you to wake up!

“Johannes? Where are you?!” I asked to the neverending horizon. Fear gripped me as my first thought was the blade against his neck, the cops closing in, and he was alone with the evidence. I should have hated him, should have cursed him to a different hell than I had earned for all my efforts in life, but the fact of the matter was that his life was over either way. I could only ask, “How are you doing this…?”

“He won't let me die, but when he's in control, I can travel through dreams. But I can't let you go before yours fades… Not before you take the throne again.”

I turned my head, nearly jumping out of my second skin I barely recognized him sitting cross-legged on the ground behind me. His hair was a platinum blonde I hadn't seen on him in over twelve years, falling over his shoulders in silvery waves. The flowing black robe he wore was a stark contrast to his deathly white skin. His pale blue eyes, lined boldly in kohl held so much pain, more than I could ever fathom, a war waging inside of him where I had become a casualty.

“I forgive you, Johannes…” What else was there to do? “But why? What is this place and who the fuck is ‘He’?”

I noticed the tattoo beneath his collarbone, a small scorpion poised to strike. There had been a fleeting moment of acceptance in becoming stardust in glittering galaxies, but the strange ink branding his ivory skin left me feeling sick. I had to go, had to get back home.

“This is nowhere, Jonas. Just a waystation, a tangible fragment to keep you from drifting into the Void before you can be reborn. I make them in my dreams, but I can never remember when I wake up.” He smiled sheepishly, but his tone was still remorseful. “This is a memory, just a taste of what's to come. He made me kill you to bring him to our world, and he will destroy everything else.”

I looked out into the barren eternity when he said this. I gestured towards the tattoo and everything that made the Johannes I knew so unlike himself, like I was looking at a strange projection of him instead. ‘Who are you, really”

“My hands, my crime… But I would rather die alone then harm you of my own choosing.” The future echo sighed, lowering his head. I hadn't noticed his shadow before, how it now seemed to stretch further behind him in the unchanging gloom. “We all shared the same dream that night, just after I found the black box… We saw the Kingdom. We saw our true potential. We also saw The End.”

I frowned, taking a tentative step towards him.I had to be certain, had to know he was who he appeared to be. He seemed to shrink away as I approached, and I felt the beginning of a rage burning deep down for whatever had instilled such fear in him. I touched his face, feeling only cold, my fingers tingling with a strange electricity as our timelines crossed. He shivered, peering up at me with an expression that I couldn't place, but hurt even more. There was something else, something I longed to fight for, and I took his hands in mine.

I saw fleeting images in brilliant colors, memories of another life, a kingdom I once called mine and would again, and all with him standing by my side. I felt overcome by an endless wave of emotions as I saw us fighting together in battle, warriors with our weapons clashing against enemy steel, slicing through flesh and bone as if we'd become one single killing machine. I heard the Orchestra with us, Johannes’ powerful voice weaving with the riffs I played on the strings of my axe, singing anthems of rebellion to my people. I also saw sleepless nights with his long limbs curled around me, pleading his loyalty as he gave his lithe form mine to use as I pleased.

I shuddered at the strange sensation, but didn't pull away, only gripping his hands tighter as I let the realization wash over me. I looked down at our fingers, seeing the matching rings that bore the sigil of the lion. His expression saddened me as I traced the twisting shape of the beast, its twisting claws and wicked claws symbolizing what we'd created together.

He rose from his sitting position on the black soil and I pulled him close, his silvery blonde hair soft and familiar as he gingerly wrapped his pale arms around me.

This was not a man capable of killing without a cause, and I knew now that he had never meant to harm me in the first place, an unwilling pawn in something we didn't understand yet. My hands dropped to the curved arachnid inked into his flesh, and I learned much more.

Death had ravaged the world I saw in the glimpse of his future, a desolate landscape as empty as the dream plane I existed in now. Skeletal monoliths of cities stood abandoned beneath a night never ending, crimson lightning piercing the mad skies, the empty streets flickering red as if washed in blood. I saw what waited for him at the end of the world, stripped down with his arms bound as he knelt before another King cloaked in shadow. My heart sank even more as I realized how he had surrendered to his dark fate…

There were tears in his eyes when I returned, his expression one of a weary prisoner who had given up hope as an eternity of slavery waited before him. He didn't look any older than the Johannes I knew, but those pale eyes were tired and old, and they had seen more horrors than any mortal mind should know.

“How do I help you, though?” I pleaded, brushing the tears from his face without really understanding why. I was furious, outraged by the helplessness of my soul being severed from my body by the hands of someone I would have readily died for time and again, but I was unable to help him when he'd needed me most. “You… The other you brought me here, and now you need to help me go back! I need to tell the others!”

Johannes nodded, lifting a hand to my chest where his corporeal self had ended me. He seemed uneasy, peering over his shoulder to see his shadow stretching far across the nightmare plane. His expression shifted to one of panic as he grabbed me by the front of my shirt. There was something headed towards us and it was coming fast. I could hear it tearing through the wind, unraveling the realm by its seams.

“Listen, he's coming for me. I need you to run. You'll find the door. I need you to live. ”

“Johannes, no....” I whimpered, reaching for him, the desire to protect him stronger than before. He choked back a sob, smiling weakly before he leaned down to kiss me. I closed my eyes, taking it all in before he pushed me away.

“Try to remember us when you wake up… Now GO!

Johannes screamed in pain as clawed hands snared from the growing darkness around him, curling around his neck and binding his arms against his chest. I cried out for him, and the last thing I wanted to leave him here, even just his essence in this dissolving purgatory, but if I was already dead, I didn't want to know what would happen to me if I stayed.

The last thing I saw before I turned to bolt across the astral desert was a white face marred with black scars, appearing behind Johannes’ head with a skeletal grin so cruel and grotesque that my mind could barely process what I was seeing. Somehow, it was all too familiar, and I knew this monstrosity well. It had him in its grip, a large claw lifting to stroke his hair possessively. He didn't fight it, but tears still flowed down the sharp curves on his face as it pulled him down beneath the surface.

I ran and I didn't look back, my legs carrying me across dry, black sand that began to crack and split beneath my feet. I could feel the void closing in behind me, swallowing the faint crimson light from the false sky, the landscape warping as I desperately searched for the door Johannes had spoke of.

There was nothing ahead and an endless oblivion behind, I could feel my very existence beginning to fade, seeing the bones and veins shimmering beneath the tattooed flesh of my arms, slowly dissipating as my light began to dim forever.

As memories were pulled from me into the blackness, I still clung to one. I remembered the shining rings, the lion and its snaring tongue and outstretched claws representing two warriors bound beyond the hungry jaws of death. My greatest enemy had used Johannes as a weapon, tried to erase me before I could understand my purpose, but my soulmate still found me again, and he was now a prisoner suffering a fate worse than death.

I saw a glimmer to my left and veered towards it without hesitation, letting it be my anchor. The ground was warping and shifting, but I ran towards the light, remembering the fear in Johannes’ eyes, my most loyal companion enslaved by the reign of chaos in the ruins of civilization. I kept onward until I saw myself, my fading expression of fear reflected in a mirror standing in the middle of the growing darkness.

Beyond the glass, I saw a young king clad in a long cloak of black feathers and scarlet silk draped over his armored body. A shining crown rested on his head, dreadlocks spilling over his shoulders in thick, gold ropes like the mane of a lion after a hunt, the master of his pride. A great sword with a hilt of twisting gold and crimson rested at his side, the royal crest of the country embroidered on a band around his right bicep, the same lion that was welded into the rings I had worn with the only one worthy of ruling at my side. I lifted a hand to my cheek and the warrior’s gloved one did the same.

“The riff was the king, just a fucking concept for an album…” I couldn't believe what was happening, but there wasn't any time left as I saw the darkness looming behind my stoic reflection, his dark blue eyes telling me everything I needed to know.

Just as the world was consumed by the darkness, I broke through the mirror with a fist now clad in steel and silver. My lust for vengeance was the last thing I felt before I heard the sound of sirens in my descent back home. I felt cold for the first time in what felt like eons, the sensation of mud and sodden grass tangible in the haze of sweet, mortal agony.

Put your hands on your head and get down on the ground!

I heard unfamiliar voices, authoritarian and threatening, the flashing lights of police cruisers disorienting as I emerged from the numbing confines of death, hearing the audible click of metal and then I heard Johannes, standing beside me with his bloody hands in the air.

I heard him whisper something before everything went dark and I came to in an infirmary several days later. The nurses and doctors that tended to me after the fact never seemed to tire of telling me what a miracle it was that I survived, and how I should have been dead after the fall. My wounds had healed without a trace besides some fading ink where my skin had been cut too deeply, and sometimes I felt an ache in my chest where I'd felt the sharp steel sliding into my heart.

“Long live the King…”

I shot up in bed with a strangled scream, my heart pounding and breath coming in wheezing gasps until the colorfully painted walls of my bedroom swam into focus. Every night, I had the same nightmare. It started in the hospital, and I remembered only disembodied hands tearing at pale flesh and a ghostly, skeletal face laughing at me from across the abyss. That is, until now….

“Johannes…” I whispered, remembering everything from my death. With trembling hands, I reached for the pack of cigarettes on the bedside table and hurriedly lit one. As I watched my destiny unfurl in the acrid wisps of smoke, I looked to the window only to see fat, white flakes of snow fluttering down lazily in the middle of April.

****

To be continued…

Chapter Text

"We are gods in the making,
We are here for the taking.
Yield to the dragon's embrace!
We are of transcendence.
We are wolves and snakes..."

[ lyrics: Dimmu Borgir - Council of Wolves & Snakes ]

* * *

Henrik stared down into his cup of coffee, doing his best to ignore the expression of intermingled disbelief and morbid fascination on his friends’ faces. He had expected them to run in terror the moment they found him afterwards, the same hideous reflection sneering up at him from the liquid’s dark surface, but Tim and John were still there, sitting across from him at his kitchen table, looking pitifully haggard from lack of sleep.

It was already enough that his body had failed him, remembering the sensation of what felt being burned alive from the inside. This agony followed him as he succumbed to a black and dreamless sleep, a lonely nothingness without end before coming to as a corpse.

“Is he…. Is he really--" John was stammering, absently studying the strangely unfamiliar face of his friend without realizing his manners. Henrik couldn't blame him for staring, taking in the grey tinge of his skin and noting the stiffness of his movements, which might have been rigor setting in.

“Really, John…. I'm right here.” Henrik sighed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His voice sounded strange in his own throat.

The only sensation he could feel was the static tingle of dying nerves, the ceramic mug wavering in his ashen hands as death took its toll. Muscles constricted as blood no longer pumped through his veins, leaving him with only an empty ache to remember what it felt like to feel his heart beat in his chest. Everything now seemed too loud, too bright, and his favorite coffee tasted like absolute shit.

“Sorry, Henrik.’ John said mildly. “I have no idea what the fuck is going on.”

“I must be dead not to enjoy this…” Henrik attempted another sip of his Zoegas and made a face of disgust. “Tim, would this be the best time to take up smoking?” Henrik couldn't help the dry humor that slipped in lieu of more pressing matters. To the others, he looked more or less like himself, and the panicked thoughts racing through his mind were certainly his own, but he also felt disembodied, as if he were trespassing on condemned property.

Tim scooted the pack across the table. “You owe me, man.”

“Thanks, Tim…. For everything.” His eyes shone with a strange light in the morning gloom, and everything about Henrik terrified the two men when they’d known him for so long. The reflection they both saw in the mirror was something neither of them could describe, nor would they ever forget. They felt afraid for their lives, and yet something compelled them to try to comprehend how to help what was left of Henrik’s, if it could even be called life.

“Henrik, if there's anything else that you saw that could help us figure this out, John and I are pretty much running on fumes here...” Tim was becoming more noticeably on edge after recovering from his first breakdown, seeing what he'd thought to be his companion’s final breaths and barely holding it together when Henrik had been attacked. Now he didn't know whether to scream or just collapse.

“Death… It feels so lonely, so cold…” Henrik peered sadly at Tim, ashamed of what he'd had to go through because of him, but none of them had asked for this. “I wish I could tell you more, but I don't know who he was or why he…” Henrik shuddered as another strange catavaric switch made him seize for a second. “This is too fucking weird. I'm so sorry.”

“This isn't your fault, Henrik. At least you're not eating us.” John shrugged helplessly and Tim glared daggers. He cringed. “Is this what happened to Johannes?”

“No,” Henrik said, tilting his head towards the sound of blood coursing through the veins of those living, the coppery scent intoxicating to his enhanced senses. He was starving beyond hunger. “Johannes is very much alive, but he was manipulated to hurt Kungen by something that wasn't... Something else, another one of those things, gave me the prison shower treatment for sticking my nose in their business…” He shrugged, as if the severity of his situation wasn't worth the wasted anguish.

‘I'm going to need them to get the fuck out of here soon…’ Henrik thought, passively regarding the horrified expressions expression he was receiving after his last statement.

“Jesus Fuck, Henrik…” Tim growled, thinking of the bruises mottling his living flesh, blue and purple splotches in the shape of hands too large to be human. “I don't know how, but I'm going to kill that fucking thing…”

'If that son of a bitch is going to put me down again, I'm not going down without a fight...' Tim thought gravely, recalling his nightmare that felt more like a distant memory.

“You should rest first… I don't think I can sleep anymore.”

John held his head in his hands, struggling to comprehend everything he'd processed after Tim called him in a panic, well before he could get drunk enough not to answer his phone.

“I-I can't do this right now.” The drummer said, standing up from his seat. He noted how Henrik looked steadily worse as the sun rose over the treeline, though he was grateful that the bassist’s paper white flesh hadn't erupted in flames yet. John cared for Henrik like a brother, and yet because he still blamed himself for how he handled Johannes preceding the incident, he felt indirectly responsible for the younger man now.

“Come on, man!” Tim groaned, wanting to touch Henrik’s hand to offer comfort but decided against it. “This shit is bigger than all of us. I don't think we're getting out that easy.’

“Look,” John continued, blinking his tired green eyes blearily. “We are all in this clusterfuck together, but it's just too much to take in...”

Henrik smiled weakly, feeling a flicker of trepidation in Tim’s eyes as he moved to stand, as well. “Please, don't worry about me right now… Maybe I'm a monster, but I'm still myself.”

Tim couldn't help but feel fascinated by the other man’s gaze, something about the unnatural intensity of his blue eyes drawing him in, making him feel vulnerable. There was a flicker of something predatory, a vision of teeth tearing into his throat, but the guitarist shook it from his head and decided sleep was best. There was still the sticky, black mess on the floor to worry about…

“I don't feel right letting you guys deal with this shit,” Henrik said softly. His voice seemed different, more resonant and eerily calming. “Maybe you should both take the bedroom, recharge a bit. I'm going to have to figure out what to do. How do I tell them what happened…?” Henrik’s expression of utter hopelessness was heartbreaking to Tim as he thought of the bassist’s young family.

John sighed, circling the table to place a tentative hand on Henrik’s shoulder, the only consolation he could give the man in his state. Henrik’s skin was cold to the touch, and he looked just as dead sitting there as he had when John arrived, and yet he still suffered. Despite his exhaustion, he didn't think sleep was going to be too easy to come by now.

Tim and John sauntered into the bedroom, quietly locking the door behind them.

* * *

Henrik listened to the sound of them sleeping, the pulsing of their beating hearts audible through the door and throbbing somewhere in his skull. He felt trapped in this body, nothing more than a bag of flesh beginning to decay around him. He looked at his hands,the fingernails turning black, the chemicals he'd used to scrub away the evidence of his death permanently damaging flesh that could no longer repair itself.

He felt tears in his eyes, he and would have held his breath had his lungs not been completely useless when he wiped them away. Dark crimson smeared the back of his hand, dripping down his face as he wept silently.

The sun had almost set again, and Henrik took a step outside to feel the sun against his face. He lit one of Tim’s cigarettes and wasn't surprised when he couldn't taste it, much less feel the smoke burning his lungs. He felt nothing, no warmth as he gazed unblinkingly into the fiery star, his eyes somehow unbothered by its blinding light. only the despair of being a ghost, and soon a danger to everything he loved.

“Henrik...’

He felt the voice rather than heard it, deep and enveloping his senses like an embrace. He turned to look behind him, his sharp eyes quickly finding his killer well-hidden in the shadow of dusk.

“You…” He hissed. He moved, traversing the distance between them in an instant, only to fall in the brush where the glittering green eyes had taunted him a second before. His mind flitted to Tim and John, their fate uncertain just by being in his presence. “Do what you want with me, finish me off, but leave my friends alone!”

“Oh, my sweet boy....” Ardek sneered, standing over Henrik with his arms crossed over his white chest. His attire had changed since their very informal introduction to this strange afterlife, now sporting a sleek leather jacket over a fishnet top, tight black jeans with silver buckles down the sides tucked into pointed boots. He smiled, and Henrik found he couldn't move or speak despite the fury he felt for the demon.

“How does it feel, Henrik, having your own body rot around you?” He knelt beside the paralyzed bassist. “Soon, you'll be ripe, suffocating on your own fluids before the flesh will slough off those pretty cheekbones in black and green ribbons.” He frowned, his bearded, aquiline features making him appear more like a dark moniker of a brooding Christ than ever. “You must feed soon.”

“What--’ Henrik gasped out the words, seeming only able to speak when the creature wanted him to. “What did you do to me!?”

“Follow me, Henrik.... And soon you'll find that you are more alive than they have ever been.” Ardek extended a hand to him, his long clawed fingers decorated in onyx rings.

Henrik considered his options, thinking of a corpse corroded down to nothing more than strings of sinew stretched across a skeleton left to wander in agony forever. He took the offered hand without further protest.

****

Ardek took Henrik further into the woods, hand clasping his as if they were any other couple going out for an evening stroll. As the light faded, disappearing over the horizon and the shadows took their hold, Henrik recognized the trail he used for his morning jogs.

“What are we doing here?” Henrik asked his captor, carefully studying his statuesque profile. Ardek was cruel and insidious, condemning him to a fate worse than death, but he was so alluring, even beautiful...

“This will all come naturally when you've had your first taste, experienced the sensation of another's life becoming yours.” Ardek purred, reaching a hand towards the bassist’s cheek.

Henrik didn't recoil from the touch. He hadn't felt the warmth of the sun on his skin, only an empty chasm of pain and loss, but he felt something burning as Ardek slowly trailed his fingers down to the faint outlines of the wound on his neck. The soft thud of footsteps heading towards them broke him from his daze.

“Now, my pet…” Ardek smirked at his pensive new charge. ‘As your new master, I want you to watch this carefully. The next kill will be yours.”

“The fuck do you mean--" Henrik began, but what happened next became a bloody blur.

She never saw it coming, eyes focused on the stretch of trail ahead. Something reached out from the darkness, snaring around her neck. There was a low, sickening crunch as the force of the impact crushing her windpipe and she went down. There was a strangled, rattling sound as Ardek pulled the innocent young woman from the path, her pretty eyes wide with horror as she suffocated on her own blood. “Quickly, put her down.’ Ardek commanded.

“No! Why would you do that??” Henrik cried, falling to his knees in front of a woman he knew as his neighbor, a kind soul... Her eyes were fixed on him now as she fought for breath that never came, both pleading and accusing. Her heart, starved for oxygen, was hammering desperately, and Henrik could no longer resist his hunger.

“Do you want to waste away for the rest of your miserable days or do you want to live like a fucking god?”

Henrik could only see the monster reflected in her fading, bloodshot eyes, and in her last moments, he knew she was seeing him for what he really was. Tears of dark ichor rolled down his cheeks, his black lips peeling back to reveal long, rending teeth. He brushed a platinum wisp of hair from her face, and that was it.

Ardek watched with abject fascination as his pet tore into the woman as if she were nothing, taking an idle step backwards to avoid the copious spray of arterial blood, bone and viscera. He admired what he created, now covered from head to toe in vibrant red, cleansing himself of his mortal life. He chuckled softly, waiting for the crunch of bones to cease before he spoke again.

“How do you feel, dear?” His voice was an almost reptilian hiss in Henrik’s ear, and the bassist turned to see his green gaze burning more brilliantly than ever, the most brilliant aura hanging in smoky wisps around him. Ardek reached out again, and Henrik gripped the demon's hand to his face, reveling in the sensation coursing through his newly awakened veins.

“Alive… So fucking alive.” Henrik growled, moving closer to the other being. Ardek grinned wickedly, wiping a gore-slick lock of hair from the man’s face while admiring the beauty of those sculpted features painted in red. He kissed him then, tasting her life on Henrik’s tongue, now radiating from within him.

Henrik clawed at the demon's auburn hair, returning the gesture angrily as he wound his bloody fingers in silken waves, reeling from sensory overload while every nerve seemed to awaken at once. He snarled in frustration when the demon broke away, throwing him down beside the remains of his first kill, which was no longer recognizable as anyone or anything familiar. Ardek pounced, his teeth and tongue hungry against the young creature’s neck, his clawed hands greedily tearing at clothing soaked in fresh gore.

“Oh, this is only the beginning.... Hunt with me, Henrik. Fght beside me and you'll never feel any pain or suffering, and your burden of empathy for those weak, pestillant creatures you called human will be no more...” Ardek purred, peeling the crimson fabric away in crimson tatters. The skin beneath was flushed and warm now, and Ardek trusted Henrik would continue to adhere to his newfound instincts and preserve his beauty just for his master.

Henrik moaned weakly as the demon undressed in only a few, fluid movements, his lean, spectral form marred with the same deep, black scars that streaked like lightning across his face. Henrik felt powerless to his touch, letting those lecherous claws rake down his sides before he was roughly spun onto his stomach.

‘My one regret is not knowing you better before I took your very limited concept of reality and tore it to tiny shreds.” Ardek ran his hands down the smooth flesh of bassist’s back, over the muscular curve of his ass before forcing his legs apart with a triumphant growl.

Ardek had other regrets, having left Henrik to burn in their past life, discarded beside the other axe-wielding warrior, the who had stolen him. His patience had paid off after so many centuries and he grabbed those hips, slamming into his tight warmth with a scream.
Those fleeting moments in the sea of death had stretched like years for Henrik, deprived of sensation when he thought he was no more than a prisoner trapped in a cage of cold flesh, and now it was as if he had never felt anything at all until now. The pain was exquisite, and Henrik screamed into the night with his hands furled in the blood slick grass,Ardek using him carelessly like he was nothing more than a rag doll.

“H-how are you doing this?” Henrik moaned, already losing control as blood began to flow all the right and wrong places, feeling every cruel and beautiful sensation with his maker deep inside of him. He wanted this abuse, wanted to feel the raw, primal power flowing from within him, from the earth beneath him, and from the enigmatic creature that claimed him now.

Ardek curled a large, bloodied claw around the dead man’s chest, pulling him close against him. His teeth grazed the soft flesh of Henrik’s neck, wanting to taste that fury, that unbidden rage he’d unleashed in him.

“You are so very valuable to us, Henrik.” The demon's tongue slithered outward like a snake, curling around his ear. “I have so much to teach you, so many things I want to do to you… Perhaps my master will like to have you, as well.”

Henrik’s lustful snarls drove Ardek over the edge so quickly, the taut white skin rapidly healing beneath his greedy talons as they dug deeper into his hips, and he begged him to cut into him again. Henrik momentarily thought of the creature he'd glimpsed in the video feed, two rows of long, carnivorous teeth so dangerously close to him, and he would be powerless beneath its burning red gaze with its giant claws raking down his back. He thought of Johannes at the mercy of a dark god and shuddered, so close to climax Ardek’s hand snaked further around his torso to aid him.

“Rest assured, pet…” Ardek sneered, merciless as he impaled his willing young victim without abandon. He roughly turned the other's head towards him, pleased to see submission in his blue eyes, along with the faintest glimmer of fear. “My master is taking very good care of his tall, pretty whore.”

“Let the others be…. Please, I-" Henrik trailed off, incapable of speech with Ardek’s skilled hand sliding up and down his shaft, every methodical thrust of the demon's hips bringing him closer until a sound tore from his lips that he never thought possible. In that moment, he bed of darkness that they so intimately shared ignited, and Henrik saw saw the blazing inferno of his future, flames lapping at the earth as all life perished into dust.

Henrik collapsed onto his stomach, whimpering softly as the world he knew returned, the air still thick with the stench of death and damp soil beneath him. He felt an emptiness, achingly reminiscent of the Void when Ardek left him, silent as the creature stood to dress himself.

“What about the others?” Henrik asked after a moment. “What about-”

Henrik thought of Jonas, how he'd narrowly escaped death at the hands of a loved one, no more than a puppet at the time. Still, Henrik somehow knew that the great, immortal King that had inspired them from another plane had survived far worse on more than one occasion.

“We have no use for them, or any of the other human parasites scuttling across this half-eaten rock.” Ardek snapped in reply, sliding the jacket over his broad shoulders. Henrik winced, feeling just as helpless now as he was as a mortal, but he could almost see the fates of the Orchestra being executed in front of him, and they weren't nearly as strong as they were the first time...

“Consider yourself lucky that I didn't just fuck you and leave you to rot in my room, Henrik.” Ardek growled, referring to the dark pocket universe hanging in the limbo of time and space, the doorless chamber as soaked with innocent blood as the earth beneath Henrik’s hands.

Henrik looked to the corpse again, shredded remnants of her strewn across the grassy field. There wasn't much left of her face, but Henrik saw blue eyes frozen in fear and confusion, a death without purpose. There had been minimal interaction between them besides a friendly nod as they crossed paths on this very path before, and he knew she was a teacher, and now…

Henrik shut down.

“What… What have I done?” Henrik whimpered, searching those dead eyes for some sign of forgiveness, but they were empty. He began to sob. “Ardek?? She was just an innocent... WHY?? WHY DID YOU MAKE ME DO THIS?!”

“It's called survival, Henrik. You think your so-called bleeding heart activism ever made a difference in this world, gave you any power over the ideals you stand against? You're all the same, just as easily manipulated and expendable as the other.” Ardek smoothed his long hair back before turning away.

“I gave you a gift, Henrik. You'll thank me when we meet again.”

****

“Shit, he couldn't have gone too far…” Tim murmured, the beam of light from his phone shining over the dense brush as they made their way through the dark wood.

John shined his own light through the trees lining their narrow path, green eyes pensive as they scanned for the smallest sign of danger or roaming corpses. “We don't know exactly what he is now, so he could be sipping mojitos in Florida for all we know.”

“We'd both rather be doing that, my dude.” Tim sighed, nearly out of cigarettes and needing something much stronger than a nicotine buzz. “You can pussy out and wait in the car, but I'm not leaving him alone out here.”

“Yeah, but only because we don't know what he's capable of out here...” John grumbled, but continued on beside Tim. He'd grown up with Henrik, known him far longer than the younger guitarist, but everything felt wrong about seeking him out after seeing him still and white. There was no life after death, not according to his current belief system, and this monumental shitstorm went far beyond the any realm of superstition he'd read about. He held a crowbar in his hand, though he was uncertain it would be enough.

“You're right, but he has a better clue of what happened than we do, plus Johannes is in even deeper shit than we thought. They planned all this, wanted him locked away for a reason.”

“What a perfect way to keep someone as ones’ supernatural fuck toy.” John said flatly, thinking he saw a shadow flitting by in the distance, but it was gone before he could focus his eyes on the treeline just ahead.

“John, seriously...” Tim began, but paused his lecture when he heard a sound, low and mournful in the cool breeze. He took off in its direction, much to the protest of John behind him. He ignored the drummer, running up a root-snared incline towards another snap of brush ahead. There was a momentary fear, seizing him with an icy dread, and he was starting to wonder if perhaps John was right.

As he reached the top of the hill, beginning to make his way through a clearing of tall grass, his shoes slid on what he thought to be a patch of mud. He shone his light on the overgrown terrain below and promptly froze, not daring to move.

Now he knew what Henrik was capable of.

“John, stay back!’ Tim called behind him, hearing a thud and a grumble as the drummer tripped on something in the dark.

“Goddamnit, Tim. What is it?!” John’s voice was angry, but he did as the guitarist wished, sitting down on the gnarled root he had just stumbled over and keeping a close eye his surroundings.

A garish trail of red stretched before the young guitarist, spreading out and becoming more dense with tissue from an unknown source. He saw fragments of bone and tatters of flesh, and he also saw a bloody scrap of what had to be clothing. His mind was reeling, every instinct telling him to turn and run, but he kept going.

“Henrik?” He called out tentatively, his heart pounding as he saw more and more evidence that the remnants of whatever poor thing that had succumbed to this fate was too large to be anything but human. His restless dreams earlier had taken him back to the burning forest, where he'd seen Henrik in true death, but not this sick approximation of it.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned, the light falling on someone huddled in the nearby brush, his skin smeared a vivid scarlet and his hair wild and matted with gore and dead leaves.

“Oh, fuck...” Tim’s emotions often overrode his sense of reasoning as he took several steps towards the cowering frame. Henrik’s unsettlingly bright blue eyes were full of fear and confusion, but he didn't want to get too close, didn't want to succumb to the same fate.

“Henrik, tell me what happened…” Tim said, careful not to make any sudden movements as he stooped in front of him, his mind working a million miles a minute and hoping John wouldn't try following him up here, anyway. He knew the drummer wouldn't hesitate to use that crowbar if he saw this.

“I couldn't stop myself… She couldn't even defend herself, but I killed her. I'm so sorry.”

Tim nodded slowly, taking in a long, deep breath. If he could keep it together until now after all he'd seen, he could keep himself from losing his shit for just a while longer. He paused before shrugging off his jacket and gingerly extending it to the shell of a man in front of him.

“Okay.” The guitarist said, but it wasn't. “We have to go before someone sees this, so please just come with me…” He looked around nervously, deciding it best not to ask about the whereabouts of Henrik’s clothing.

Henrik hesitated, as if he didn't trust himself near his friend. The hunger had been sated for now, but he didn't know how long it would be until the urge came again. He took the garment and wrapped it around his blood-spattered shoulders before standing.

“Henrik, you look… better.” Tim noted, cautiously shining the light over Henrik’s face. When he'd seen him last, his lips and tongue were already beginning to turn black, probably followed shortly by a smell of spoiled meat, but now he looked the same as the Henrik he knew. Tim couldn't stop myself when he touched the man's face, feeling warmth beneath his skin.

“So, this is what you need to do to survive…” Tim mused aloud. Henrik hung his head in shame, but didn’t shy away from his friend, so understanding despite the danger he faced.

“You should have just killed me again…” Henrik murmured.

“Shut the fuck up. Let's just get home before someone else shows up. We'll figure that other shit out later.” Tim sighed.

As the two of them made their way back down the hill, Tim held up a finger to silence John before he could muster a sound about Henrik’s bare and bloodied state, the other arm wrapped around the walking dead man for support.

John followed them back to the house in silence, anxiously wondering what had happened to Henrik to leave him covered in the remnants of something worse off than himself. He thought of the tall creature that reminded him of Christ with claws, and shivered at the memory of the shadow before. regardless of whether Henrik was a threat or not, none of them were safe. His grip on the crowbar only tightened.

* * *

To be continued…

Chapter Text

“A delusion starts like any other idea.
For a delusion to thrive, other - more rational ideas must be destroyed...”

***

[ Johannes’ POV ]

We rose through the blackened skies on wings of flame and sorrow, a mad symphony of suffering engulfing us as millions of screams rose from the dying earth below. His murdering claws drew me close, keeping me safe from the inferno as it cleansed the world of its human sickness.

I was free of my burden, unchained from the confines of pain, transcending mortality in a brilliant orchestra of fire. I wrapped my arms tighter around his shoulders, feeling inky feathers beneath my trembling hands. His skeletal face with those curved teeth terrified me, chilled my blood, and yet I didn't want to be anywhere else. There was nothing else...

* * * *

“Are you still with me, Johannes?”

I blinked up at him wearily, not quite sure where or who I was for a moment, especially under the gentle scrutiny of the doctor's hazel gaze. I shivered, redirecting my attention to my bruised arms resting on my lap, my hands clammy as I shifted nervously in my seat.

Dennis smiled sadly at me from across his desk, his olive skin and chestnut hair illuminated warmly in the sunlight, the same carved pendant made from a Ouija planchette hanging proudly around his neck as always. There was an almost supernatural beauty that emanated from him in a shimmering aura, disorienting me, making me feel helpless without his presence as my guide.

I wasn't a superstitious man before, but the good doctor had made me question my reality even more than I had before I was admitted into this stagnant hellhole. I had already begun to feel uncertain of the events from the other night, despite a low ache that still followed me. It all left me wondering if it had been just an alluring and terrifying dream conjured by the prospect of spending the rest of my days alone and unwanted.

“Ground control to Major Tom…” I sang softly, then shook my head. “Er, what were you asking me?”

Dr. Droomer’s quirked a dark eyebrow at my mental absence, but I saw nothing but sympathy in his eyes, so unlike the condescending hatred I felt from the poor bastards who had held his position before. It almost infuriated me, as I had quickly developed a reputation shortly after my arrival, and now he was in control. I loved to hate that power he had over me.

“Still not sleeping well, I take it?” He chuckled. “I've been trying to talk to you for twenty minutes now and you're still light years away.”

“Same shit, different life…” I shrugged my shoulders apathetically. My nose itched and I turned my head, thinking I saw the silhouette of a small tortoiseshell cat contentedly cleaning her paws in the corner, but there was nothing there but shadow. “Er, where did she go?”

Dennis blinked, calmly tilting his head towards where I'd been fixated. “Where did who go, Johannes?”

“The little cat from earlier… Brown, sheds a lot, opens interdimensional pathways... That one?” I sniffled, partially joking in my last statement, though I was still feeling affected by the animal’s dander and unable to locate the source. Dennis leaned back in his chair,studying me for a moment.

"Are you feeling all right?” He asked, and I
was steadily becoming more agitated at his cavalier attitude, carrying on like nothing had happened. He brushed at the sleeves of his black turtleneck, checking for cat fur. “You could say I have a small zoo at home, but this isn't exactly the safest place for my cats… I'm sure you understand.”

“But…” In my confusion, the last thing I needed was another night in the isolation ward, and I slowly took in a deep breath as my darkness began stirring to life. I shook my head, and when I turned back to Droomers, he was making notes in journal. I had to fight the urge to want to hit him with it.

“Are you having more hallucinations lately?” Droomers asked me gently, and I was disarmed once more when he glanced up at me in that way that made me feel so blissfully weak. “You seem substantially more out of sorts than your usual charmingly absent self...”

“I can't tell where one dream ends and another begins… ” I whispered.

The days blended together in a fog and time felt more and more disjointed with every outburst and accompanying adjustment of my medication. I felt confused and slow, which left me more docile and vulnerable to the impending dread that crept closer in my darkest nightmares.

“I don't want to do this anymore… I want it to stop.”

“Don't.” He said, and I flinched when I felt his hand reach for mine when he'd been behind his desk just a moment before. I didn't recoil as I felt his fingers clasp mine, letting his strength flow through me, focusing on the sensation of the cool metal against my skin from his rings. “It won't stop, but I'm here.’

There was a memory, blurry and dark, of that same hand clamping over my mouth, the other holding me down as he violated me like I was nothing. I shuddered while I relived that sensation, searching his eyes for doubt or disgust and seeing something else. I leaned into him and felt an arm wrap around my bony shoulders protectively.

“This madness, the guilt and anger that consumes you; it will follow you forever, but you don't have to stay confined in these walls for much longer...” He stroked my hair, holding me close as I breathed in the sweet scent of his cologne. I couldn't bring myself to reciprocate the gesture, but I let him do as he pleased.

“It never gets better.” I sighed against his broad chest. “Dying feels like the only escape I deserve.”

“Bullshit.” Droomers growled, his tone taking on an edge that was almost immobilizing and I glanced up at him tentatively as his grip tightened. “Of all the lost causes and degenerates that walk through that door, you're a god amongst them… You can still create a world beyond this place. ”

The declaration was disarming, but he seemed to understand my body language and he stepped away, regarding me like I did towards caged animals as a kid: an unwilling prisoner, dangerous but still worthy of respect.

“Am I really here?” I asked him blearily, desperately needing his touch again, something tangible to ground me to reality. I whimpered, feeling a familiar chill wash over me. “I feel like I'm in three places at once sometimes, seeing reflections of myself from far away. I know I've been there before. I've seen my own death. It's going to happen again...”

Droomers nodded slowly and I reached for him again, feeling a wave of dizziness from the slew of anti-anxiety drugs as I stood. When I kissed him, it was clumsy and awkward and with the trepidation that he'd reject me, but he didn't.

“So much pain… I can help you.” He purred, his breath cool against my face. His lips had tasted familiar, and I knew that night hadn't been just a needful delusion asleep in my restraints. I needed him more than I trusted him, stil haunted by the paranoia that he'd use and abuse me, then toss me away with the rest of the unwanted.

I could feel my body responding to his closeness and my first instinct was shame, wanting to recoil and hide for what I couldn't control. He held fast, his broad hands drifting around my waist, slowly sliding down until I gasped as I felt him lift me onto his desk with no effort.

“Goddamn…” I said breathlessly. His eyes reflected a brilliant green with flecks of gold in the cool light, burning into me with such intensity as he held my legs firmly around his hips. I moaned weakly, “How the fuck would such a handsome, educated man like yourself want anything to do with a psycho fuck like me?”

“You and I have far more in common than one would see at first glance…”

“I see…” I chuckled darkly. “Unresolved issues of your own?”

“Oh, darling…” He growled, hooking his hands under my knees and pulling me against him in one fluid, violent motion. “You have no idea….”

He sighed, glaring up at the clock on the wall. Time often felt skewed when I was in his presence, always fleeting when I wanted more of my drug of choice. I knew I was playing with fire, letting him ravage my mouth in those last few minutes, my hands doing all the talking as I confessed my greatest sins to him in confidence.

"Perhaps next time, I might disclose said unresolved issues, just between you and I. Thirty minutes clearly isn't enough for you."

He disengaged from me with some reluctance, smoothing back the errant strands of hair that had come loose from his already messy ponytail. “That tongue of yours could be considered a danger to others.” He said, grinning wickedly.

For the first time, I was grateful that the only patient scrubs the hospital could provide for someone as tall as me had also been designed for someone much wider. The billowing fabric prevented potential embarrassment as I wanted to jump the good doctor’s bones and let him impale me on his desk more than ever. I felt warmth rush to my cheeks, feeling uncertain as I began to leave his office.

“Wait, Johannes…” Droomers began, and I turned back in mild confusion. It was hard to comprehend that primal side of him when there was such tenderness in the way he looked at me now. It was if he'd known me well before I was assigned to him as a patient, nothing more than a social experiment on paper classified by a case number.

’Right into the black sugar cobweb…’ I thought with a dreamy grin.

“I meant what I said when I told you that this doesn't have to be your hell…” He smirked at me coyly, but I could tell he wasn't lying like the others. “Try to keep your hands off yourself... or the orderlies in your frustration until later tonight. I had an alternate treatment in mind for you.”

I nodded mindlessly, soothed by the haunting baritone of his voice as he opened the door for me. My endorphin rush from riding those lilting currents came to a violent halt as I came face to face with the last orderly I wanted to see at the moment.

“Until next time, Johannes!” Droomers said with an added pep to his voice, then he turned to the other man. “Take him straight to his room until dinner. He can skip the evening group to rest early if he likes.”

“Sure thing, boss.” The sniveling little bastard said snidely, grabbing me by the arm. I shot a pleading look to the young doctor, who kept his professional composure strong despite this. “Right this way…”

****

Dr. Droomers closed the door behind him, his face expressionless as he turned back to the notebook on his desk. He loosened his tie and cracked his neck as he began to mutter a strange language under his breath.

There had been panic in his patient's pale blue eyes, still so bright even as the madness and near-starvation had taken its toll on his body. He was strangely beautiful despite his gaunt, pallid features and his wild black and blond hair that made him resemble a gangly feral creature more than anything else. He was suffering in body and mind and the doctor felt a momentary gratitude that his pain would end soon enough.

Seregor growled, a strange chitinous rumble creeping from his throat as he shed his human mask. He placed his hands on his desk, trembling with a dark rage igniting deep within him: The King was alive and his clever little pet was too close to remembering everything...

His teeth elongated and curved as the color rapidly drained from his face. Inky black fissures cracked down ashen white flesh like gaping scars, a line splitting down the center of his jaw as it seperated to reveal several more rows of razor sharp teeth. The lower halves of his jaw spread wide like serrated wings, the deadly mandibles of an arachnid
and a slithering, barbed tongue like a scorpion's tail.

He stretched his jaws, preparing himself for one more meal before he took Johannes home...

The cat had been there all along, allowing herself to be seen as she blinked at her master appreciatively from a shadowed corner of the small office. She flicked her tail slowly and yawned.

“He is allergic, you know.” The creature hissed at the tortoiseshell cat. “Try to be a tad more considerate next time.”

The cat meowed a small creak of a reply before turning her green gaze to the wall beside where she reclined, peering up at door that appeared where only wood panelling had been a second before.

Seregor returned to studying the elaborate, twisting runes he’d written, appearing incomprehensible medical gibberish to mortal eyes but revealing protective sigils,summoning incantations and complicated blueprints for an empire at the end of the world. He sensed his half-brother and second in command in his mind, and Ardek stepped through the door a moment later.

The bearded demon tilted his head just in time as a lamp came flying in his direction, carefully aimed so as not to strike the familiar. She flattened her ears at the sound of shattering glass and ceramic broke the dull silence, but continued watching the exchange with interest. Ardek quirked an eyebrow at his master, who looked about ready to tear his head off.

“You don't seem terribly pleased to see me, Seregor. Cock-blocked again?’ Ardek’s tone was smug.

“You undermining fuck! How dare you turn one of them without my direct order?” Seregor roared, a resonant growl booming in Ardek’s mind. His hands elongating, fingers stretching and twisting into skeletal blades, he now towered over his subordinate, who simply rolled his glowing green eyes before taking a seat at the desk where Johannes had been moments before.

“Well, had your puppet successfully disposed of The King before you ruthlessly stripped him of his dignity in this shithole, perhaps you wouldn't have needed my help!”

Seregor’s hands were at his throat before Ardek could blink, but he remained unfazed,gazing defiantly up at his leader’s hundreds of teeth with a small smirk.

“You are smitten for that evolutionary anomaly of a man, aren't you?” He chuckled, knowing full well that he was too much of an asset to his master in his weakened state. A second opinion was needed and Seregor reluctantly relinquished his grip from his soldier's neck.

“I can't say I blame you…” Ardek purred reassuringly. “I've grown quite attached to my new charge. He's got a jawline for days and the potential to be a complete fucking killing machine.”

Seregor sighed, not one to be upstaged, but thousands of years of imprisonment had humbled him slightly. “I suppose we will have to move things along faster than expected.” He growled, thinking of the problem orderly and the aura of pure, unadulterated fear that had consumed Johannes upon seeing the man. “I have an obstacle of my own to tend to this evening.”

Seregor’s hatred for The King spanned far across time, well before the Pitch Black Box was sealed by The Lightbringer’s most coveted possession, only to be unearthed once more by a distant descendant of the bloodline generations later. The King of Light and Shadows had lived in harmony long ago, Alpha and Omega, but then came the face that sank a thousand ships…

The love between the one now called Jonas and Johannes in this life had spared the King death once more despite Seregor’s attempt to use that bond against him with blades and broken glass. He almost wanted to hate his delicate pet for his failure to complete the task, and he had eradicated entire societies for far less, and yet he coveted him more for his devotion.

“And they say chivalry is dead! You never cease to impress me, my lord...” Ardek laughed.

* * * *

[ Johannes’ POV ]

I kept my mouth shut and my eyes to the old, water damaged ceiling as he led me towards the residential wing, not allowing myself to speak the overwhelming frustration after the abrupt end of my session with the doctor. He was just a distraction, a fleeting high to chase like an addict until there was nothing left of me, and I wanted nothing else.

I felt his eyes on my wrists, glancing over the mottled rainbow of bruises from my previous struggles, to my hands which had broken several bones, now clasped in front of me in a submissive gesture. I had no interest in him or any snide, belittling remarks he had in store, no longer chained by the uncontrollable fear that plagued me.

“You seem different, Eckerström… Lots less of a miserable fuck than you usually are. Looks like that doctor’s got you on a pretty tight leash… Are you domesticated yet?” I glanced over at him tiredly, but said nothing.

We neared the door to my room, and I began to feel eager for the two hours of silence when he pressed on. “I wouldn't mind seeing you on a leash, begging on all fours… That your thing?”

I grit my teeth, waiting for the idiot to just toss me in my cell and be done with it. There were enough cameras in this corridor to quickly stifle the urge to jab my elbow into his septum, and I simply stared ahead.

I heard a chuckle, felt his hand touch the small of my back out of view of surveillance, but a sudden commotion redirected my monumental discomfort elsewhere. A piercing screech like an animal being mutilated tore through the air, followed by a guttural snarl, horrible sounds fusing like two creatures becoming one as she tore around the corner.

The peculiar little woman I'd sometimes sat with as she mumbled medicated nonsense stumbled to her knees on the tiled floor in front of us, her hair wild and jade green eyes burning pale fire. Two other orderlies nearly doubling her size came quickly after, batons raised and shouting protocols into their hand radios.

“Get the fuck off of me, you useless sack of shit!”

She hissed over her shoulder as they converged on her, both men attempting to subdue her as she thrashed in their muscular arms like a snake fighting for its life. There was a fleeting moment when her eyes met mine, and I saw a weary smile of recognition before she drew her legs up and kicked one of the men in the face as hard as she could.

“You…” The woman snarled, her gaze never leaving my face. She spun around on the floor, her knee making contact with the same assailant as he slumped to the floor with an emasculated groan. She was on her feet in an instant as the other man called for medical help, already sporting a split lip and too much of a coward to pursue her further. “This is all your goddamn fault, you asshole. You're the reason we're all going to fucking die in here!”

I shook my head slowly, not understanding her raving accusation. I assumed she was just as off her rocker as I was, just another criminal nutjob on a bad trip after an impromptu change of her medication. The air felt thick with her words like the storm forming above the building, and I slid back against the wall and braced myself.

She lunged and instead of fear, I felt an overwhelming sadness, not for myself, but for the woman so consumed by her hatred, so certain that she'd seek vengeance by taking me down. I sure as shit didn't feel a damn thing for the orderly as he unclipped the club from his belt, and knew my next outburst would condemn me to the jacket, but my hand was at his arm before he could strike her. He screamed in pain, but I held his wrist tight.

“No! No more! Leave her alone!”

I shoved him back into the wall, much to his surprise, and then she was on my back, punching and screaming with all her might. I saw confusion and rage in front of me and felt its impact from behind. I growled and threw my arms up, grabbing her wrists and tossing her away as gently as one could to a delusional lunatic.

“Fucking stop…” I gasped weakly, watching her face for any indication of another attack as she glared up at me from the floor. ‘Just leave me alone. I don't know what I've done to you--” Or will do... I held up my hands in surrender, but then the orderly’s club struck my temple, most likely for getting in the way rather than my insolence, and I was beside her on the floor.

“I know who you are, Johannes…” She hissed as a needle was shoved into her slender neck. Her curls were like wild auburn snakes hanging around her small face, the fire in her eyes never dimming even as her body went slack. “You betrayed our King. He loved you… He loves you still, after everything you've done.”

“No… H-How could he?” Her words pained me, and I shook my head in disbelief even as I felt the familiar, shameful sensation of my wrists being restrained in zipties, my momentary freedom lost before I could enjoy a taste of it wirth the doctor. It must have been what I deserved, and I watched sadly as the sedative took her for now, feeling only sympathy for her plight.

“The patient, Hart, er--” There was a pause as I watched the stupid bastard who had clocked me, reporting to dispatch on his radio as he checked the woman’s identification band on her wrist. “Lauren is down. Eckerström made matters a fuckton worse, but the situation is now under control.”

“Bullshit!” I growled, and then I was yanked from the ground by the wiry fuck who had kept his distance out of cowardice. He would have gladly beat on that woman if she didn't have bigger balls than he did.

“Put the bitch in the jacket.” The first orderly sneered before turning to me, already winded by the small scuffle while I stood tall with a searing throb in my temple where he'd struck me. “I'll deal with you later, Pennywise.. Early bedtime for you in isolation.”

* * * *

To be continued...

Chapter Text

"Ein kleiner Wunsch, ach wärt ihr blind
wir sind Opfer böser List
schwarzes Glas ist überall
schuldig weil wir hässlich sind...

Vor der Mitte tiefer Fall
und unter Masken wird es hart
Schwarzes Glas ist überall
Vergessen ist wie schön ihr wart.
[ lyrics: Schwarzes Glas by Rammstein ]

* * *

[ Kungen's POV ]

I watched as another wound healed over, the blood sliding back into each gash I made before my inked skin knitted back together in seconds, flawless, as if nothing had happened. The small blade in my hand dripped bright scarlet, the only evidence of my experimentation. It wasn't that I wanted to die, despite watching the very veil of reality being ripped away from under my feet when I should have. I just wanted to understand why I couldn't…

“Near death experience, my ass.” I groaned as I threw the knife in the sink, the white basin now splattered in blood like a twisted Pollock painting. I shook my head at my own reflection left the mess for another time, for when I had enough bleach to fool the savviest forensic analyst.

The general state of my apartment wasn't much better than the washroom, boxes of vegan take-out strewn around and all the tell-take signs of a bachelor hermit doing little to ease the pain of immortality.

Johannes’ absence haunted me ever since I woke that night to strange April snow, and the longer he stayed locked up in that guarded psychiatric fortress, the more I realized the cause for my pain. I felt so little from blades, pills, or splintered wood and glass, but this was the longest we had been apart in over a decade.

I felt like I was already dying, but the thing I longed for never came. I found myself scanning through photos, finding relief in memories that now felt robbed from me.

There was a current injunction seperating us until he could be tried for a crime against me, but what seemed so obvious on paper and in video evidence was mere smoke and mirrors by a guided hand. My hands were tied, just like his.

My phone had been off for some time. I'd ducked too many calls from family, friends, angry strangers and a distraught tour manager. The ridicule and novella-length letters of praise and encouragement from social media had been too much, but now I turned it on and made a call.

John answered as quickly as I expected him to, breathless and clearly dealing with something else as I heard muffled chaos that sounded like Henrik in the background.

“Jonas…” John sighed, his relief palpable despite whatever was going on. “I didn't-" He paused, snapping at someone to pipe down before continuing. “We didn't think you'd ever contact us again…. After everything.”

“Everything's fucked up.” I said mildly, coming upon some photos from years before stored deep in my desktop’s hard drive, from when we were still balancing our shitty dead end jobs and pursuing our struggling music career by night. Johannes was smiling his naturally manical smile with his arms wrapped around me in a mock wrestling move. I smirked to myself, remembering how that night was the reason he vowed never to drink on tour again.

We had been so close to remembering then, the other lives we shared together,  but I respected his commitment to another after, and that was that. This thought only made the pain worse, and I couldn't stand to be away any longer.

If this wasn't rock bottom, I was scared to know what was.

“We need to get to the hospital tonight." I said, wiping at tears that threatened to spill. "I'm sure you've got enough on your plate as it is, but Johannes... Don't ask me to explain, but---"

"Lucy, if you know something we don't, you've got plenty some 'splainin to do. Shit went south for us when Henrik died and ate the neighbor, so... where do you want to meet?"

* * * *

[ Johannes’ POV ]

Hours must have passed when I woke to the dreary darkness of my familiar hell. The tremulous rumble of thunder vibrating through the thick cinder block walls dulled the edge the usual dreary silence of the midnight hour, as well as momentarily distracting me before the throb of my skull made me moan in pain.

“Was hoping you'd wake up soon...” I heard the hushed voice, and for a moment, I thought it was him, my confidant. He’d kept his promise, after all...

Dennis…” I breathed, but the rasp of a chuckle that came in reply sounded nothing like him. The orderly continued to laugh, as if the name amused him greatly. I tried to move, but like many nights before, my wrists were tethered to the bed frame.

“Oh, shit.” He snorted. “Are you serious, man? As in Droomers?? Is that why you act like such a fucking dumb puppy around that goofy high fashion fuck?” His smug braying only intensified my headache. “You fucking slut.

“...You're no prize yourself, asshole.” I snapped, jumping to the defensive despite being completely blind in the dark. I felt a hand at my throat, pudgy fingers digging hard into my skin. I remembered how Droomers had done the same, but his intent had never been to cause me pain like this sad little man.

“You think you're some hot shit, don't you?” I heard his voice too close to my ear, his breath sour against my face. “All you've ever done in your pathetic life is put on your faggy makeup and scream your shitty music, then you couldn't handle your fuckbuddy king getting all the credit and the pussy, so when he didn't let you blow him, you threw him out a goddamn window!”

“Fuck… you! You don't know a fucking thing about him--" I gasped, the next squeeze causing stars to burst in the corners of my limited vision. I shuddered in disgust, wishing he would just give me what the coroner’s report would read as an accidental overdose and be done with it.

“I'm gonna give you one more chance…”

I felt the straps around my wrists being loosened. I wanted to die, a true death, where the past or future couldn't find me in the nothingness. I felt something smooth and metallic against my neck, realizing he was using his club to keep me compliant.

“Don't you scream now, or else I'll cave in that pretty face so hard that no one will want to even look at you, especially Dennis…” He spat out the name with spite and an unmistakable tinge of jealousy. “I might just do that when I'm done, anyway...”

There was a small flicker of light from a phone's screen, then a brighter beam illuminated the small, cold cell in a pale LED glow. I could see him more clearly now, and deeply hoped that the darkness would take me soon. I knew I wouldn't survive this night. I didn't want to.

He unfastened the straps pinning my ankles and I instinctively tried pulling my legs against my chest, but his hands snared out, holding them in place as he crept closer.

“I gotta hand it to you, sticking it to the man like the big white knight to protect some crazy cunt who was fixing to fuck you up… You've either got balls despite your tranny looks or else you're a goddamn idiot.”

I paused for a moment. “Is this the only way you can make yourself feel special?” I asked him plainly, biting back a scream as he jammed a thumb against a tendon in both my ankles. I glared at him harder. I lived my life being a stubborn fuck and if that's all that he thought of me in this solemn hour, I wasn't going to make it an easy victory.

He struck me with his fist instead of the club, much to my disappointment, though the stars I saw cast a glimpse of another world, the Kingdom glittering bright.

“One less psycho captive on the taxpayer’s dime, is that it? You have this grandiose vision that you're taking out the trash?” I snarled, tasting blood in my teeth as I lifted my head. “Damaged goods must be the best you can get, big guy….” I purred the last sentence in my most sarcastic tone. “Gotta use your big club to overcompensate for your shortcomings… Now, who sounds more pathetic here?”

I was on the floor before I could challenge him again. The pain in my head and the double vision that ensued from another blow stole my thunder, and I felt his shoe on my back, pressure steadily increasing on my spine.

“You're not too fucking funny for a clown.” He hissed, and I heard the familiar sound of clinking metal and rusting fabric. I looked to the locked door and hoped that when this was over, I would see golden spires and emerald towers.

“Go f-fuck yourself, you self aggrandizing little bitch…” I wailed in pain, and that's when the first impact from the club sent my forehead back into the tile.

~

The skies were like an oil painting, swirling red and gold dancing across the new earth. The evening sun set behind the sprawling mountains and lush forests that surrounded our Kingdom, the sunlight reflecting from the castle’s gold ediface like a brilliant beacon of light, to safety, beckoning all who heard the King’s melodies in their dreams.

~

“No one will give a fuck when you're gone, sweetheart. No one will mourn your fucking corpse when I'm done with it, either.” He growled, spitting on the ground as he stood over me. I tried calling for help, my voice hoarse and weak, and he delivered a swift stomp to my ribs.

I held up my free hand, a pitiful effort to defend myself against the coming blow while blood spilled from my nose and through my fingers. I watched as he lifted the club above his head, the mad glint of a sadist in his eyes, as if I were nothing more than an insect to be tortured and crushed for his pleasure.

A spray of crimson splashed across my face, hot warmth spilling over my white scrubs and liberally spattering the wall behind me, but it wasn't mine. The blow never came, the billy club clattering to the floor as it slipped from his hand. When I looked up through my gore slicked hair, I couldn't quite comprehend what I was seeing.

“Wha--"

My fatal beating by the orderly’s hand had been rudely interrupted by what I first thought was a dark, curved blade. I tilted my head in awe, finding a fleeting amusement at the expression of mild surpise forever frozen on what I could see of the man’s face as the sharp edge protruded from his mouth. The feeling passed with the steady trip of blood sharply hitting tile, shock setting in when the weapon moved in a way that indicated it was not a blade at all. It was something alive.

There was a viscous tearing sound as the thing sliced upward in one quick, graceful motion, bits of bone and grey matter spraying into the cool air as the orderly's head was suddenly split in half from the chin. There was a tremor of electrical impulses, a vaguely comical thrashing of limbs before the body fell in front of me with a lifeless thud.

I could feel my chest tightening, wanting to scream until I couldn't anymore, yet too afraid to draw breath as I saw the weapon more clearly: It was a sleek black and segmented like a scorpion's tail, the barbed tip drenched in crimson as it slid back into a gaping mouth, its jaws split open into four segments that reminded me of a great carnivorous flower made of bone and teeth.

It took me a moment to recognize the pendant, the Ouija planchette that always hung from his neck, his nice outfit now heavily soiled by the bastard who had tried to violate me again and silence me for the last time.

Johannes…” I heard his voice in my mind, burrowing like a swarm of insects, the very infestation that had haunted me, feeding me nightmares while it ate me alive in the process. I shuddered as he spoke again, no longer deep and sultry but a crackling rasp like a cold and violent wind. “Are you all right, Liefde?

I said nothing, though I could feel my mouth moving, wording questions that could not be answered by the most spund of mind. A strangled sound escaped my lips when that face suddenly filled my blurring field of vision as he knelt, his eyes glowing a myriad of beautiful hues despite his twisted,arachnoidean features. I felt more vulnerable than I ever had in that moment, unsure if I wouldn't have the contents of my own skull spilled upon this dirty floor like the one laying still at my feet.

“Poor thing. You've seen far too much... ” He hissed softly, and I could feel him inside my mind, soothing the fear paralyzing me. I felt a clawed hand slither over mine, still trembling in my lap where I sat helplessly in a scarlet bath. The last vestiges of sanity finally began to crumble around me, and I felt my fingers curling automatically around his; cold, skeletal, and just as deadly as everything else about him.

“You lied to me…” I managed to gasp out, my words strange to my own ears. I felt warm tears spilling down my face, mingling with fresh blood. “You told me this wasn't real... “

I felt something shift in the air, and when I turned my head, the portion of wall to my left was gone, a wide archway leading into a vast darkness in its place. A pair of green eyes peered at me from around the corner and I saw the tortoiseshell cat again, her friendly red and black face a bizarre sight to see in lieu of the slaughter.

“I did deceive you, Johannes, and for that I am truly remorseful for this nightmare you've had to endure for so long....” I felt no remorse from his voice as he spoke in my mind, however, a chitinous growl escaping from the monster’s spider-like mandibles. I imagined how those teeth could so easily peel the flesh from my skull, how those hands could have torn my stringy body to pieces, but he simply held my hand with a tenderness that conpletely contradicted his existence.

“You have suffered long enough, my dear, and they have no intention of releasing you from these walls... There is no longer a place for you in the cesspool of modern society, not in this life.” He leaned in closer and I could feel every hair on my body prickling, my breathing quickening to the point of hyperventilation as his forehead touched mine.

“I can take you home. I can take away your pain…”

“J-Just kill me! I can't do this anymore! Please!!!” My voice broke in a sob and I turned away from that face, so twisted and beautiful, macabre and enticing. The voice purring in my shocked and medicated mind went silent, so many teeth so unbearably close. I felt something like sadness emanating from him.

“Why would I kill you? I am so grateful to you, for everything you've done for us...”

I felt myself drifting, slouching forward as consciousness relented. Arms circled around me, lifting me from the bloody floor. Before I was claimed me into a deep and dreamless sleep, I heard a flutter of feathers ripplling through the musty air.

I saw the blurred outline of the winged creature with the pale blond hair, the one from the forested labyrinth of hallways. He regarded the corpse on the floor with an expression of disgust, pale eyes glowing a silvery haze as he stepped from the entryway, his black wings dragging behind him like a tattered cloak.

“Kill the rest of the staff slowly, then put the insects out of their misery.” I heard the voice of the creature as he spoke to his subordinate, feeling the cruel hiss of his true tongue creep over my skin.

Blessed darkness consumed me.

****

To be continued….