Whether I really intend to go and listen to Ethan tell faerie tales tonight or not, he’s definitely gotten my attention. What the hell is going on here? I’ve seen Ethan every day since I can remember and I swear his eyes are brown. My eyes quickly shoot back to Ethan’s, uncertain of what I saw, and they’re…they’re brown. Not a trace of the pale gray shimmer I just witnessed remains. Am I going crazy?
Let’s see: hearing voices in my head that no one else can hear, check. Imagining things that aren’t really there, check.
Krista’s voice suddenly breaks through, “Gray, is everything alright?”
“Ahhhh!!!” I jump back, startled by her interruption.
“Sorry, Krista! I just thought I saw something strange, but…” I pause momentarily to convince myself. “…it’s nothing.”
Pull it together, Gray.
I steady myself and look back over at Ethan. His expression is mixed, seeming both unsurprised and genuinely amused at my little episode.
Well, I’m glad SOMEONE finds this entertaining! I glare at him with the most irritated look I can muster, but this proves to only amuse him further. I grunt to myself and begin a mental tirade of my frustration, forgetting that he can probably hear everything I’m thinking. I abruptly turn away, choosing to ignore him, but I swear I hear restrained laughter in my head.
Whatever’s going on, it isn’t normal, but I shrug it off as best I can and return to the present. I scan the cavern anxiously, wary of the strange behavior exhibited by the Centurions. More than once since we’ve arrived at the Hub, I’ve seen them hurry back and forth, speaking in hushed voices and glancing in my direction.
The atmosphere seems to gradually thicken around me and then I observe two Centurions running headlong toward Jonas back at the Hub entrance. They look out of breath and nervous as they relay what I can only assume is very urgent news.
Jonas’ eyes widen as he listens to their report, his face draining of what little color it has left. His head turns slowly to face me, eyes filled with a look of dawning comprehension. “Krista, check out Jonas”, I whisper as I turn aside to face her. “He looks like he’s just seen a ghost.”
Krista looks over to the mouth of the cavern then grabs my hand so hard it hurts. I follow the line of her arm all the way up to her face – her body is rigid and there is genuine fear in her eyes. I hear a low chorus of gasps rush through the crowd as heads turn one by one to face the Hub entrance. I turn my head to follow suit and Krista barely chokes out, “looks like you may not be far off…”
A willowy cloaked figure emerges at the mouth of the cavern. On sight, my pulse quickens and I draw Krista in close. The figure glides across the room with unsettling ease, his robes, black as the deepest recess of the mines, billowing behind him ominously. I glimpse a peculiar emblem emblazoned across his chest – a large black flame outlined in purple. The shape seems vaguely familiar to me, but its hue is unmistakable – Darkstone.
The figure casts a deliberate glance in my direction and I see his face: cold black eyes set into a mask of pale stone. He glows with a dull purple aura, slightly blurring the edges around him.
My muscles tense instinctively like a wild animal sensing a nearby predator, and before I can even process the change, I’m writhing. Thoughts of bitter hatred flood my mind, but I have no idea why. I focus all my energy on resisting the growing urge to lunge at the figure and tear him to pieces.
As he draws nearer, everything around me seems to fade. The rustling of feet against the dirt floor, the clicking of the machinery, the urgent murmurs of the crowd, all becomes silent but the low rushing of wind that seems to accompany the shadow as it sweeps past. My gaze fixes on his dead eyes, demanding explanation for the impulses surging through my veins, but none comes.
“What is that thing?” Krista whispers cautiously.
I just stare in silence, rooting myself to the spot, as he moves across the cavern.
“That is a Dimmer, an agent of the Overseer.” Ethan’s voice once again disturbs my thoughts.
“Dammit, Ethan, can’t you knock or something?” I think back at him.
“Honestly, Gray, what do you suggest I do? Come over and bang on your head? There’s no time for this.”
“Fine. Sorry. Why did I tense up the second I saw it? When it passed by, it was all I could do not to reach out and strangle it.”
“Yes, they can wipe the mind, but the body always remembers. In time, your mind will remember again, but you are not ready.”
“What? You mean I’ve seen one before?”
“More than one. I dare not say more now.”
“Why? Can it hear us?”
“Not yet, but it can sense when people near it are communicating in this manner. We all share certain…traits.”
“Wait. What?! How is that even possible? Ethan, you’d better start explaining!”
“Gray, you must calm yourself now or it will know for certain what, for now, it only suspects.”
“Ethan! What the hell are you talking about?! I want answers NOW!”
In that moment, I hear a violent whoosh of air as the Dimmer suddenly turns about to stare straight at me. Where, before, black eyes lay dead in their sockets were now piercing globes of intense purple. A chill shot up my spine that froze me in place.
“Gray, remain absolutely still and do not speak to me again until the Dimmer leaves. Our lives depend upon it.”
All at once, fear washes over me like a black wave. The Dimmer begins slowly gliding back to me and my heart begins to race, pounding harder and harder as the gap between us shrinks. The sound of my heart echoes so loudly in my eardrums, I swear the Dimmer can hear it, can feel my quickening pulse resounding through the cavern.
“Gray, stay calm. Take control of your breath and slow it down. Relax your eyes and clear the emotion from your mind. You can do this.”
I visualize my breath as a speeding ball of light and catch it, halting its erratic movements, bending it to my will. Gradually, my heart slows and I envision my breath expanding until everything is covered in brilliant white. I refocus my eyes on the Dimmer and allow calm to flow over my countenance. My muscles relax, my brows soften, and, by the time the Dimmer stands no more than a foot away, my body and face are void of expression.
The closeness of the Dimmer chills me to the bone, as if cold emanates from it the way warmth does from normal men. It moves all about me, leaning in close as if searching for evidence of the conversation Ethan and I had. My body shivers involuntarily, but I hold on to the vision of the white light in my mind. I transform the light to a shield around me and change its color from white to pale blue.
I don’t know how long the Dimmer persists. I just hold on to the vision of the pale blue shield with all my strength until, eventually, it pauses a moment, turns and begins its previous course anew. At last, I release the image of the shield and audibly exhale.
Something is tugging on my arm. I ignore it, still fixated on the Dimmer as it moves eerily along, but it starts tugging harder. I look down to my right and see a small hand joined in mine and pulling downward. I follow the line of the arm up and see Krista’s face. Her lips are moving but I still hear nothing but the ominous sound of the Dimmer moving through the thick cavern air. I narrow my eyes at her, showing my lack of comprehension, until finally she reaches her other hand up and caresses my cheek.
Warmth spreads from her fingertips through my face and out to my whole body, coaxing me from my catatonic state. I look down at the hand against my cheek and take it in my own, joining it to the other. I study Krista’s hands – pale and scarred like mine, but somehow still delicate and gentle. I look back up at her face and am stricken by her beauty as if seeing her for the first time again. My heart flutters, snapping me to my senses. What am I doing? I abruptly let go of her hands, allowing my own to fall limply at my sides.
“Gray, are you alright?” says Krista quietly.
I consider her question a moment. No, I am not alright. I’m stuck as a slave in these mines for crimes I can’t remember. According to Ethan, I just narrowly escaped death because I was overcome with anger at the mere sight of something called a Dimmer. I have no hope of ever escaping and yet here I am allowing myself to feel things for Krista that can only bring me pain. I am a fool.
“Yeah, I’m OK”, I lie back to her.
“I was so scared that thing was going to take you. When it passed by, you got really tense. I looked over and your eyes were almost red…what happened?”
“My eyes were what?”
“They looked like they were glowing red…come to think of it, they did that earlier when you attacked Jonas too.”
Great. So now I’m a freak.
“Maybe it has something to do with when you feel really strong emotions”, Krista muses. Her candor pulls me up short.
“You say that like it’s no big deal. Doesn’t it scare you?”
“Gray, we’re in a subterranean prison with weird purple rocks that make you go crazy and scary ghostlike things that move without walking. Glowing eyes are the least of my worries,” she says with a slight smile.
“Hmmm…?” Krista never ceases to amaze me. I start to question but then just let it go. “Well, OK then,” I smile back.
“So what do you think that thing is?” Krista turns around and follows the figure with her eyes.
“It’s called a Dimmer.” The words come out before I even realize what I’m saying. I see Ethan shoot a pained look in my direction out of the corner of my eye.
“It’s a what?” she replies, incredulous.
Crap. I guess I might as well go along with it. I’ll already be getting an earful from Ethan later. “A Dimmer,” I repeat. “One of the Overseer’s agents.”
“How do you know that?”
“Ethan told me about them before…so I would know to watch out if I ever saw one.” Nice save.
“I would have thought you’d tell me so I can watch out for them too.”
Almost a nice save.
“Sorry Krista. I just figured I would watch out for you and didn’t want to worry you about them.”
She looks down at the floor, considering this a moment. “Yeah, I guess that does sound like you.”
And the recovery!
“Just…no more secrets, OK?” she says, piercing into me with her brilliant green eyes.
Crap. This isn’t going to be easy.
“OK. No more secrets.”
Thoughts of everything I know already and so much more I’ve yet to find out race through my mind. What is OK to tell her and what isn’t? Knowing too much could put her at risk. Knowing too little could have the same effect. I resolve to discuss it with Ethan later when guttural yelling from across the Hub grabs my attention – Jonas.
“GET YOUR BONY ‘ANDS OFF ME! I AIN’T DONE NUFFIN’ WRONG!” bellows Jonas as the Dimmer pulls him along with surprising strength.
“What’s he doing?!” says Krista as she turns urgently to me.
Can this really be happening? The Overseer threatened Jonas with punishment earlier, but I never thought he’d make good on it…especially this quickly.
The Dimmer was dragging Jonas by the arm across the ground now, leaving a trail of gravel and cracked earth behind them. I hardly believe it possible to pull a man as large as Jonas so effortlessly and yet it’s happening before my eyes. A grim smile widens across my face.
“The Overseer has grown weary of your disobedience.” The sinister voice of the Dimmer hisses, echoing frighteningly through the cavern.
“IT’S NO’ ME, IT’S THAT FREAK!” Jonas spits the words in my direction, contempt written plainly on his face.
I lean over to Krista’s ear so she can hear me above the clamor. “Remember when the Overseer came on the intercom this morning and stopped Jonas after I took him down? He said he’d be punished later…I think he’s making good on his promise.”
“FREAK! FREAK!!! I’LL GE’ YOU FOR THIS, I SWEAR!!!” Jonas screams at the top of his lungs in fury. Both Centurions and miners alike watch, awestruck, as the beast of a man we all fear is dragged off as if he were a misbehaving child. Before long, Jonas’ massive purple boots are clanking on the landing, across the bridge and out of sight, his increasingly desperate cries fading away into the darkness.