-1Angela approached Shadow in small, sneaking steps. She made no sound; she did not rustle one leaf, surprise one animal into startled movement.
The knife gleamed in the cold light of the moon.
She reached the body, laying there so still in the soupy dark, unmoving except for the barely visible rise and fall of the chest.
Grinning grimly, grinning like a corpse, Angela knelt beside the splayed shape that had once been both a friend and an enemy, and brought the knife's deadly silver gleam toward his throat.
Silent and ghostly himself, Smith stood silently, watching, fascinated by the glammer of the kill that was approaching.
With the knife only a centimetre away from Shadow's vulnerable throat, Angela stopped, looking at Smith, seeming to consider something.
"What is it?" He asked, his voice low and husky.
"I have a better idea, but I need you to help me."
Angela stood up, her knees cracking like gunshots, and began to explain her plan in hushed, grim tones.
Blackness. Yes, he had always known it would end in blackness.
Dark was the only thing that was eternal.
It had been present at the world's beginning, it had ruled as Lord High Executioner when the foolish humans had blotted out the sky, changing the world forever.
And now he knew, darkness waited for all at the end.
But, if he was truly at his end, then why could he feel the ground beneath him, like a distant whisper? Why could he feel, also far away and dim, the throb of where he had hit his head?
Unconscious... A small, distant voice whispered, deep in the dark insane reaches of his mind.
As if the whispering voice had caused it, his floundering mind rose to the waking world, and was greeted by a viscous blast of pain that seemed to rip his skull in two.
Hi, howaya! The pain seemed to yell. So solly, Cholly!
Barely aware that he was doing it, barely aware of anything except what had happened to him concerning his head (but even that was slipping out of his grasp, like a fish greased with the slickest oil), Shadow gritted his teeth against the pain.
Echoing, as if the mock him and deliberately cause the steel-plated bolt of pain which grasped him and threatened to sent him unconscious again, he heard Angela's voice.
"Almost... when... rocks"
At the sound of her voice, his mind rose further into the waking world, beginning to shake off the last foggy dregs of his unconsciousness.
Finally, Shadows eyes opened to the darkness, and widened in horror and understanding at what they saw.
Conveniently, Shadow had landed on the rocky path, and hence not too far from where Angela wanted to take him, so their work would be short.
Smith was dragging him along unceremoniously by a length of thick, crusty vine tied around his midsection, whilst Angela lit the way, flaming torch in hand.
"Almost there now" She called, her voice echoing in the rocky valley. "When we get there, I'll point out this little cluster of rocks. That's where I want him."
Breathing in long, thick gasps, Smith nodded, his head down on the cracked terrain of the path which Angela was leading him.
Shadow began to moan groggily, indecipherably, but neither of them noticed.
In the blazing core of light thrown by the torch Angela held gently touched up a sharp, rough circle of sinister rocks, which seem to laugh and jeer at the very night.
"Just in there, Smith."
Smith dragged Shadow behind him, said insanity twisting and turning and bumping on the rough cracks and holes of the path.
Finally, when it had seemed that the pain in Smith's new Virus body would be enough to drive him insane, he had reached the clearing formed by the sharp rocks.
Smith put Shadow down, looking at the jeering rocks.
Blood. Scratches. More blood. That was all he saw, and the memory of what Angela had told him flew through his mind like a shiver.
That path, she had said, it goes up for about two miles before hitting the mountains. But before that…there's a particular clearing. I don't know exactly what creatures live there, all I do know is that their den is often used as a…a point of sacrifice, if you like. You leave someone there, the Things, they… sniff them out, and if you were to go there the next day… nothing but blood and bones. Nothing more than Shadow deserves, wouldn't you say?
Looking fixedly at the deep gored scratches somehow cut into the strong rock of the place, Smith thought it was a fit punishment indeed, although some deeper, fresher part of him whispered in the night that it was not.
He turned to look at Angela, she was looking off into the mountains with a distant, pained expression on her face.
"Angela?" Smith asked, smoothly as ever.
Her gaze snapped to him, her mind obviously torn from a very vivid - although unpleasant - memory.
"You rest, Smith. I'll tie him, and then we'll go, because if we stay much longer…" That corpse-grin flashed out at him. "We may be the main course after Shadow."
Gratefully resting against a nearby boulder, Smith nodded, with that voice still whispering deep inside him, unheard by his conscious mind.