I live safe inside my cell
In the darkness that surrounds me
I see my own special hell
Comfort in my suffering
Feeling warm inside this pain
Four walls coming down on meCome on down again"
- John Frizzell and Gabriel Mann, My Little BoxWhat the--No. Please. Oh God, no. Not this again. No…
Glass. His eyes, eyes that should no longer have been capable of seeing, saw nothing else. In front of him. On all sides. Beneath him. Boxing him in. His new home, a crystal Alcatraz. Though the ability to feel any form of temperature was long gone, his surroundings chilled him on the spot, a glacier slowly sliding atop him and suffocating him. Making him almost feel part of the glass, bound to it for eternity…
"It's about time you woke up."
Dennis Rafkin cried out and quickly sat up, practically bouncing off the ground to his feet. The voice, tinted with a darkness that could have only come from the grave, had sounded so close by; he had expected to see someone standing right next to him, watching him as he slowly began to realize where he was and had been before. Instead, he was met with a person staring at him from behind the translucent wall, Latin containment spells painstakingly etched onto it. "What…what am I…this place…" Dennis choked out, slowly shaking his head from side to side.
The Torn Prince smirked, his shadowy gray eyes without any hint of empathy for Dennis's confusion. "I don't know what he needs you for," Royce commented, "But it doesn't matter, not to me. At least you'll know how it feels now."
Dennis managed to find his voice, but now only succeeded in babbling his disoriented thoughts to an insensitive audience, "Y-You were set free! Arthur set you free, set you all free. Cyrus is dead. I saw it…The house…exploded. Nothing left…nothing…and yet I'm here…in this basement…same fucking place…trapped like you all were. And you're here…and…NONE OF THIS SHOULD BE HAPPENING!"
With a primal yell, Dennis began banging his fists on the door to his cell. There could only have been one person responsible for this, a man that, like him, should have been long vanquished from the earth. "CYRUS! Where are you, you sick fuck?! I'm not gonna let this happen again, do you hear me?! Get your sorry ass down here, bitch! I'll kick you down to Chinatown!"
Royce shook his head and sat down on his overturned hot rod, waiting until Dennis was through with his helpless outburst. It took awhile before he had tired himself out, his voice raw and aching from screaming at the top of his lungs, his hands feeling bruised from banging on the glass. Royce cleared his throat, "You of all people should know shouting isn't going to get you anywhere."
Dennis quickly turned his head to look at Royce, lips pulled back in a snarl. His words to the Kriticos family returned from a dugout in his memory. Hey, Glass Family Robinson. You are wasting your breath. This is Ectobar glass. He's not gonna hear you. See, this is shatterproof and soundproof. "Then why can I hear you through the glass?" Dennis countered, "I mean, shit, it sounds like we're in the same room."
Royce ran his good hand, the one that still had all its fingers, through his greased jet-black hair. His voice had been edged with disdain from the first words he spoke to Dennis, but it became even more apparent when he was forced to explain the situation, "It's only soundproof to mortals…for the most part any way." He gave the panting Dennis a sneer, recalling his flawless swings missing Dennis's head because the moronic diva nanny directed him when to duck, from the other side of the glass. "But as for us, we can listen in on everything from one side of the basement to the other. And since the floors are made mostly of glass, we could hear anything that goes on in the whole house. Just gotta strain your ears hard enough."
For the first time, Dennis noticed that the other cells were empty. It was just him and Royce in the dungeon. "Where's all the other freaks?"
Royce's glare deepened. "On the run, and much better off than we are. But it's only a matter of time."
Dennis swallowed hard, trying to calm himself with deep breaths. He remembered his death very clearly, mangled in the Juggernaut's indestructible grip, his body snapped in half like a twig. He had willingly sacrificed his life for Arthur's, himself playing the role of the real Thirteenth Ghost. He remembered watching, with pleasure, while Cyrus wriggled and screamed as the twelve spirits grabbed him and launched him into the Ocularis, his fate strikingly similar to that of The Torso; all that was left of him were grisly fragments of what had once been a fearsome man that the world didn't know to be afraid of. Dennis had watched Arthur leaping into the eye to rescue his kids as the machine short-circuited and the house exploded around them. The last image he could conjure up was Jean appearing before her family to tell them she loved them one last time. Then…nothing. There had to be something after that, somewhere he had gone. Cyrus couldn't have regenerated the house so quickly. In truth, Cyrus shouldn't have been able to do shit, considering the state he was in.
Dennis looked up at Royce again, who was now holding his baseball bat, meticulously examining the scratched wooden surface, testing it in his hands, as though his fascination with it would never end. "How?" Dennis asked, hoarsely.
Royce wouldn't look at him, still staring down at his bat, "How what?"
"How. Did. It. Happen." Dennis asked impatiently. He winced slightly as his gaze dropped to Royce's bat and put a hand to his head. The wound still felt wet and even the blood still felt warm as it trickled down the side of his face and neck. Royce didn't respond. Dennis gritted his teeth, becoming more annoyed. He was in a situation that he couldn't even begin to understand and the only person who perhaps knew what was going on was turning into a mute. "I'm fucking serious, man," Dennis muttered darkly, taking a step towards the glass barrier between them, "I don't have time for this bullshit. Just answer me a few questions, kid. That's it. If Cyrus is back, we don't need to waste time standing around and jerking each other off. Just fuckin' talk to me!"
Royce scowled and threw down his bat. A few sparks kicked up as it hit the inscriptions on the glass, making them light up like a Vegas sign for a split-second. He didn't trust Dennis. He could not forget the fact that Dennis had helped Cyrus in capturing them all. A Devil's Advocate, of sorts. The greedy bastard did it all for money that he would never get his hands on. Royce couldn't deny being pleased at Dennis getting a taste of his own medicine, but because Dennis knew Cyrus best, he could be perhaps be most effective in defeating him, knowing his weaknesses if he had any. Royce shook his head, "Of course Cyrus is back. Who else could have pulled all this off? He's going to catch us all again, all twelve of us. He's at a disadvantage though…he doesn't have you around any more to assist him. Or Kalina what's-her-face for that matter. But he seemed to find me pretty fast, regardless." Royce sighed. On second thought, it had been so long since he'd really had someone to talk to. Even if Dennis had been the enemy. The more he talked, the more he wanted to tell. "I had just gotten back to my old ball field and everything. I could see my school. God…it had changed so much. And I started thinking, you know…about my parents, my friends…my girlfriend Tabitha…Tabby…and where they all were now. It had been too long, they can't still be thinking about me. And I thought, they've all forgotten. Another senseless tragedy, but life goes on. I'll bet they don't even look back anymore and think 'what if'. They have their own troubles to worry about. There weren't even any flowers on my grave. I stood there for a long time, letting it all settle in. There was nothing left for me there. How can I still be here when there's nothing left for me?"
Royce suddenly paused for a moment, his eyes now filled with unfathomable sorrow. Dennis blinked, staring at the younger man. He hadn't expected Royce to start pouring his heart out, but who knew how long he'd been trapped here in the basement by himself. He was sure if he had been Royce, jailed in this glass hellhole again when he thought he would be free, he would have gone as crazy as The Jackal on a good day. "Hey, it's alright…I can understand. I mean, I don't know what the hell I'm here for either…"
Royce jerked his head up, glaring, "Don't you dare pity me. It's not going to help me or make me feel better, so why bother? You wanted to hear what I had to say and I'm obliging, so shut your hole and listen." Dennis was taken aback for a moment, but wanted him to continue, so he gave him a quick nod. Royce's features softened, almost looking as though he were sorry for sounding so harsh, but he made no move to apologize. He stared back down at his hands. "Well…all of a sudden, I got this horrible feeling. Like this drop in my stomach. The feeling you get when you know something's…coming for you. The fight-or-flight kind of feeling, I guess. And then I heard those chants again, those damned chants. They were all around me, I couldn't escape. I kept looking around, nobody was there, but I kept hearing them. They got louder and louder. I told myself I wouldn't obey them, I was stronger than that. I stood my ground for as long as I could, but it wasn't long enough. That's when everything went black."
"What happened after that?" Dennis implored quietly.
"A lot of darkness," Royce said, "I woke up again in my cell. It was all just as I'd left it. My sweetheart was still here." He ran his hand over one of the wheels on his car, spinning it. "At least when you woke up, there was someone else here. I woke up alone. But I wasn't quite alone. There were these voices upstairs. One of them was Cyrus. I'd know that bastard's voice anywhere. He was talking to this other guy, but I had no idea what he was saying. Some kind of foreign language. But it was horrible to listen to. I mean, I'm always angry, ticked at the world for what happened to me, but this was…his voice made me want to kill, just inflict pain on anything it would get a reaction out of. I can't explain it, but just the thought of doing something like that made me feel powerful. I-I don't know…neither of them have been back since. I didn't even hear them before or after you showed up here."
Dennis took this all in, nodding, "Okay…alright…and where do the Kriticos's fit in on this?"
Royce frowned, "What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, they're his family. And you said he's re-capturing everyone, which means he's going to re-capture Jean. Is he bringing them back to relive the nightmare or what?"
Royce let out a shaky laugh, "Oh yeah, he mentioned the Kriticos's…and how he took care of."
Dennis's eyes widened, "Took care of them?"
"Apparently, Cyrus arranged for a little bad luck to come their way. It was all over the papers. Their apartment building caught on fire, for reasons the ol' experts still haven't zeroed in on yet. They were the only ones who didn't escape, everyone else in the building at the time escaped. Mysterious, ain't it? But what a tragedy. Can't you hear the community weeping now?" Royce rolled his eyes.
Dennis exploded, "Oh, fuck you," he bellowed, so loudly that Royce flinched. "FUCK YOU, pal! GO TO HELL! What gives you the gall to say that, like they didn't matter?! They were good people! They didn't deserve any of this! Cyrus came into their lives and fucked everything up beyond recognition. I wanted to help them, and they, in turn, tried to help you. You fucking ungrateful…They're the only reason you even got a little fucking taste of freedom!" Dennis took another deep breath after his second outburst, his heart aching so badly for Arthur and Maggie, Kathy, Bobby…wiped out by Cyrus and his demented plan. And then this little smartass, speaking so condescendingly of the people who set him and the others free. He could only hope the Kriticos's were in a far better place than this. Perhaps they were even with Jean. Dennis closed his eyes and turned away from Royce, who was gaping at him, and angrily knuckled away a few tears that had fallen past his eyelids.
"Look…I'm sorry," Royce muttered, not sounding too convincing in his apology. "They were amateurs. They didn't know what they were doing. They gave us all false hope. Yeah, so they released us. Big deal. It's not like it was going to last, they had to know that. "
Dennis spun around, the look in his eyes spewing hatred. He no longer cared if Royce saw him cry. He was going to get his point across, by God. "Of course they didn't know that, asshole! How would they have fucking known that Cyrus could come back? They saw him killed just like I did. Shit, I didn't know it could happen. Sounds like something out of a slasher flick, the killer coming back for one more sequel! And you're missing the point entirely! You're too busy feeling so sorry for yourself and what happened to you…"
"And why shouldn't I?!" Royce shouted back, "You read my file, you know just about everything about me. I was at the top of my game. I had colleges I hadn't even heard of kissing my ass, begging me to play for their team. Everything I could ever want was right in front of me, I just had to reach out and take it."
"But you thought you could put it on hold," Dennis replied, his voice strangely calm now, dripping with sarcasm, "One night was all it took for Boy Wonder to lose it all. And we all know you were just so used to getting what you wanted…and what a tragedy it was when you didn't get it."
Royce looked genuinely hurt. He turned away from Dennis, now being the one to turn his back. "You were the one complaining I had no sympathy. Where's yours now, Mr. Fucking Compassion?"
Before Dennis could even think to respond, a flash of blue-green light momentarily flooded his vision. And then it was gone, a phantom aurora. Apparently, Royce had noticed it too. "What the hell was that?" he said, asking himself more than he was asking Dennis. He began looking around him, something catching his eye as he glanced to his right. All thought of continuing their little debate vanished from his mind and a glimmer of fear crossed his face. It was their newest arrival. But it certainly wasn't another of the members of the Black Zodiac. "Oh shit…we've got company…"