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The Sound of Silence

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It wasn’t until after he’d lost his voice that the Archivist realized just how much he relied on it.

Now, this was not the first time Jonathan Sims had lost the ability to speak. Illnesses, especially as a child, were the most common culprit. And then, after he had first started recording statements, he’d had several cases of laryngitis, as he wasn’t a normally talkative person but had taken on a position that required him to talk most of the day. But there was something distinctly, viscerally different from losing your voice to overuse or sickness and having it stifled, silenced, by a malevolent, outside force.

Jon had been through a lot in his life thus far, particularly in the last few months – he’d been burned, knocked out, choked, handcuffed, threatened, beaten, sent into a hellscape of falling terror – but he had never in his life been gagged. That had been the first thing he had noticed upon waking up in Nikola Orsinov’s “secret place of power.” It hadn’t been the pounding headache, the ropes binding his wrists and ankles to the arms and legs of a sturdy metal chair, or even the cluster of horror-inducing, uncanny, waxen almost-people surrounding him. It hadn’t even been the hellish ringmaster herself.

No, it was the gag that first captured Jon’s attention. He couldn’t tell for sure what they’d gagged him with other than that it was a wad of cloth jammed into his mouth and tied round the back of his head so tightly that he could feel the corners of his mouth being lifted into a grotesque, involuntary grin. The fabric was coarse and musty, and it scratched at his lips and rubbed his skin raw. His tongue pressed against it, desperately trying to dislodge it, but it was no use – it was tied too tightly, and any attempts to call out or to speak were delegated to muffled grunts and mmmmms.

Of course, it didn’t take long for him to notice all the other horrors of his situation, and his discomfort with the gag faded into the background as he took in the ringmaster and her minions, all wax and cloth and dead or painted eyes and patches of skin. But all too soon, the theft of his voice rushed to the forefront once more as Nikola talked and talked in her simpering, girlish voice and every response he tried to make was absorbed and stolen by the gag.

He knew why she had done it. He’d have known even if she hadn’t told Elias point-blank: Jonathan Sims asked too many questions, and beyond that, his questions were dangerous. He had a voice touched by the Eye, and his questions could compel answers and perhaps his words could, given enough time and practice, affect the world around him.

Jon had never realized just how much he had come to rely on his voice, and even more importantly, his newfound power until Nikola had shoved a gag into his mouth and left him helpless – totally, completely helpless. Even if he couldn’t use his voice to escape, even if he just used it to ask questions, to get answers, at least it was something. At least it was power of some sort. He was a prisoner, he was alone, and he was utterly, completely powerless. All autonomy had been stolen from him, and he felt so very small.

He hadn’t even realized how much he’d been relying on the power that the Eye had been gradually bestowing upon him from the moment he had read his first statement. The relationship he had with this ability was… complicated. While it came in handy when recording statements and extracting important information, it felt somehow wrong at the same time, like he was becoming something that he should be trying to destroy, like he was losing himself with every question he asked and statement he recorded. But now…

When he’d first come to, Nikola Orsinov had taken his recorder, was speaking into it. Speaking to Elias. A surge of hope had rushed through him, if Elias could hear, maybe he could see. Maybe he could find him, send someone to rescue him, get him away from this Circus and its twisted ringmaster.

Nikola squashed those hopes quite rapidly.

While Jon was unable to speak, the ringmaster talked more than enough for both of them. She talked to Elias. She talked to Breekon and Hope. And, of course, she talked to Jon. She talked about how pleased she was to have Jon as her prisoner, about how Sarah had wanted to nail instead of tie him to the chair, about how her plans had shifted from wanting Jon followed in the hopes that he would find the ancient pelt to deciding she wanted to make Jon into a pelt instead, about how no one, not even Elias, would be able to find him here, about waxworks and lotion and the way she planned to peel his skin off while he was alive and screaming, and how he would make a lovely frock. And all the while, her voice rose and fell in pitch and tempo, like that of a schoolteacher for young children. The mere sound of her voice was almost as grating as the words she spoke, the threats and promises for his future torment.

And so he did what he always did when faced with things bigger, scarier, and infinitely more powerful than he was – he talked back. Well. He tried to, but all that came out was a series of muffled noises, sometimes irritated, sometimes exasperated, and sometimes coated in a deep layer of panic. There were so many things he tried to say, needed to say, questions he needed to ask. Even if he couldn’t escape, he needed his voice. But it was gone. Silenced.

It was hard to breathe with the gag, too. He hadn’t noticed it at first, so focused as he was on the surrounding circus of waxworks and Nikola’s dramatic monologuing and the pure terror of being unable to move, unable to speak, unable to do the one thing he had been given by his… patron… to defend himself. Eventually, though, he realized that breathing through his nose, especially those rapid, panicked draws of air, left him light-headed and sick, and his chest ached. He wanted a deep, full breath more than anything. Even more than he wanted his voice.

Still, he supposed was able to get his point across surprisingly well by context and intonation alone. At any rate, Nikola had absolutely understood his pointed “Mmmmm mmmuuu” when she first asked how he was feeling. She’d been positively delighted at his defiance, ever the cat with the painted on face playing with her dinner that asked far too many questions.

Even after she danced from the room, leaving him alone in a sea of uncanny, not-quite faces, the despair remained. The fear boiled in his chest. He was going to die, horribly, painfully, and before that, he was pretty sure an insane mannequin was going to forcibly rub lotion all over his body, and no one knew where to find him and – his breath hitched, his mouth working desperately around the cloth – they were going to peel his skin off like he was an apple. They’d take the gag off then, he knew. They’d want to hear him scream.

He didn’t know how long he was alone. It could have been hours, or days, or weeks, or even months. Time was different here, and all he knew was that the ropes burned his wrists and the wax faces wouldn’t stop staring and he was all alone and he shouldn’t have pushed everyone away and – and the silence was deafening. He wanted his voice back, if only to break that damned quiet.

When Michael manifested in front of him, told him of his decision to kill the pesky Archivist who had become too big of a threat, Jon found himself unsurprised. Out of the plastic claws of one insane entity and neatly packaged, tied with a bow for another. It seemed pretty standard fare, the way his life had been going as of late.

What he hadn’t expected was for Michael to remove the gag. He sat there, hands and ankles still bound to chilly metal, still surrounded by unseeing waxworks, and found himself ironically grateful to the creature that was about to kill him. He gulped in deep, desperate drags of air, and knew that now, if he was to die, at least he wouldn’t be powerless.

He would have his voice. He would die as himself, as Jonathan Sims, the Archivist. It was a small mercy, but at this point, he would take what he could get.

And then the Distortion surprised him yet again. Allowed him to question. And even though it was bizarre, even though anything he learned would mean nothing when Michael followed through with his promise and killed him, Jon jumped at the chance. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge, perhaps? The call of the Eye? Was he more Archivist than Jon, now?

It didn’t matter in the end, he supposed. But maybe, nothing did.

So he opened his mouth, found his voice, and asked: “How – how did you find me?”

And it felt good.