Clock Tower 3: An Offer of Eternity
Across the blasted rooftops of old London town, the lady in red ran, and Sledgehammer followed.
There was something exciting about the chase. It didn't compare to the kill, of course, but it definitely had its appeal. It was like the appetiser to an excellent meal; it served to heighten the senses and the anticipation. When they fled, they left their terror in their wake, and he drank it in like a fine wine, preparing himself to feed in earnest on their suffering. To an Entity, there was nothing more intoxicating, or more nourishing, than that.
He didn't know who this woman was. In truth, he didn't much care. She could have been the star of the stage, or just another floozy, it all amounted to the same thing in the end. What mattered was the thrill of hunting her down, before he brought his hammer down on her and smashed the life out of her, binding her soul to him for all eternity. All her frustration - all her misery - would only serve to feed him.
And if she was missed, and they came looking for him, then that didn't concern him either. After all, they'd killed his host once before. He'd just come back, time and again, until the body was utterly destroyed and he was forced to find another. He was eternal, free from the earthly shackles of flesh, and could come and go into the bodies of mortals as he pleased. That was true power.
His heavy boots thundered across the stone, and he knew the noise pushed her onwards. Eventually, she would run out of rooftop, but that was a matter for later. For now, her thoughts were only with him, and how she would die if she slowed for even a minute.
The blood of the man he'd found her with stained the scarlet silk of her dress, and the pale flesh of her face and throat. Her feet were cut and caked with filth. He could hear her panting as she struggled for breath, could see the fear in her eyes whenever she looked back to see him following her.
She scrambled across a wooden plank between two buildings, stumbled as she climbed to the top of a pointed roof, slid on loose slates as she made her way down the other side. And he followed her, no matter where she went or what she did to evade him. Within the black hood that covered his head, he grinned through dirty lips, his teeth red-crusted pearls in the dark slit of his mouth.
His quarry stopped at the rooftop's end, arms flailing as she teetered on the edge of the drop. She let out a scream, almost losing her balance, and then found her feet once again. When she turned, it was to see him bearing down on her, huge and menacing, hammer clutched in his immense hands.
"Please..." she sobbed breathlessly, her painted face streaked with tears and grime, "don't..."
It was all that she had time to say before the blow came, the impact of the great mallet shattering her bones. Jagged shards of ivory burst from her alabaster skin, blood spraying from each wound, and then she was falling away, her broken body plummeting limply over the precipice. The rail spike waiting below pierced her back and burst from her stomach, three feet of wrought iron emerging soaked in crimson. Her limbs hung, splayed out beneath her suspended torso, her head back, her eyes glassy, her mouth open in horror.
He watched her die, and drank deep of her spirit.
"Have you had your fill of cattle?" a voice asked behind him, and he spun, weapon raised.
He found himself face-to-face with the Entity known as Chopper. The pale-skinned killer was sitting atop a chimney stack, his twin blades resting on his belt. This wasn't his time period, but their kind were not bound by the static progression of events as mortals were. They could move hither and thither throughout history at will. Never the same life twice over, they had told him, and they had been right.
"I'll never have my fill," he told him, resting the hammer on his wide shoulder, "so long as their deaths fill me with life. So long as their weakness fills me with strength. So long as their misery fills me with joy."
"You have never known what it is to truly hunt," the other being criticised, his tone thick with disgust, "but you shall have your chance to learn. A Rooder is coming."
The news took him aback, not an easy feat for an eternal and undying creature of his many centuries. The Rooders were the sworn enemy of the Entities, and almost the opposite of them. While his kin were immortal and insubstantial, and fed on cruelty and suffering, they were bound to flesh and blood, and died as humans did, drawing their strength from compassion and fulfilment. They were worthy opponents; indeed, the only ones who could truly slay Entities were Rooders.
And he had never battled one of their kind before.
"She has left the protection of her caretakers and come in search of her mother. The trail will lead her here first. I am certain of it."
"From which time?"
"The twenty-first century."
"The era of moral decay, eh? The women were a rowdy bunch back then, if memory serves. Just how I like 'em."
"Still so consumed with your primal urges," his brother-in-arms muttered, shaking his head as he looked out over the battle-scarred city from his vantage point, "all the same, a Rooder - even a fledgling - is not to be trifled with. Bring her heart to the altar of the Clock Tower. Our numbers are few, and Lord Burroughs has but one opportunity to join us."
"Bah! Why should that idiot get our gift?" Sledgehammer snarled, "he already failed once."
"Our war cannot be won without soldiers," Chopper replied, aiming a clawed finger at his face, "it is the indiscipline of ones like you that has brought us to this dark place. Do not let our numbers be depleted further with your foolishness."
"Yeah? And why should I listen to you, Rooder Killer? You're just a slayer of young girls and old women. What makes you think I'll obey? Entities don't answer to anyone."
"I expect you to listen to sense," the other being said flatly, rising from his seat and producing a hole in the very fabric of existence with a mere wave of his hand, ghostly runes circling the rift as it yawned before him, "but if you decide to ignore my warnings, on your own head be it."
And with that, he stepped into the portal, letting it seal shut behind him.
The murderer stood for a moment, considering what had been said, and then - pausing to take a moment of satisfaction at his latest kill - he moved off along the rooftops again. A Rooder was coming to town, and he had no doubt that she would prove intriguing.
From the moment he leapt through the girl's window, the kill was an intoxicating rush of terror and then, with a single blow of his hammer, it was over. Her tiny body crumpled, her pink cotton dress stained with her blood and ripped by jutting bones, and then she rolled limply down the stairs.
She came to rest on the landing, and he heard a cry of horror from down below. His ears pricked up, and he rushed down the stairs, his heavy boots thundering on the steps as he descended. There, standing below, was a young girl in clothing that was not of this time. He recognised it as the uniform of one of the schools marked by the Rooder Society, where they held their fledgling soldiers until their powers matured.
He felt a smile appear on his grimy lips, as excitement bloomed in his broad frame, and he leapt the rest of the way, crashing down with his feet on either side of his latest victim.
"Hello, little girl," he greeted, unable to keep the delight from his voice, "I see you followed my trail. You're a smart one, aren't you?"
"Who are you?" she asked, backing away, even as he crept towards her down the last few steps.
"They call me the Hammer," he told her, taking delight in terrorising her, drinking in her fear, "and you're Alyssa, aren't you? I've been looking forward to seeing you. That's why I left you that little trail of bodies to follow. If you want to trap a Rooder, you just appeal to her conscience, and sure enough you came right to me."
Her back struck the door leading to the next room, and he could see her hand seeking the door handle even as she kept her body turned towards him. "What do you want with me?"
"Where to begin?" he asked, grinning beneath his hood, "first, I want you to show me a little of that Rooder spirit I've heard so much about."
He lunged for her, bringing his hammer around in a blow that would shatter her body and reduce her to a bloodied pulp. The door gave way behind her as her hand found the latch, and she tumbled away from him. He pulverised the frame, laughing as he sensed the rush of adrenaline spike in her body. She collapsed onto her rear end, and then she was scrambling up and away from him as he pushed through the entrance after her.
She stumbled into a low dresser, stopping herself against it, and then reeled away as he swung for her again, turning the cabinet into matchwood. It was surprising how fast she was for such a youth, but then, this was what her kind were renowned for. As Entities, he and his brethren had the power to live forever, to move between human vessels, and to fight with the knowledge that, even if their bodies were killed, they couldn't die. Their enemies compensated for their lack of longevity with superhuman speed and strength.
In deft hands, she seized a glass jar full of loose buttons, easily bigger than her own head, and threw it at him. It shattered on his skull, but he shook the blow off, swinging for her again and smashing a dressmaker's dummy in a half-stitched shirt and jacket into tiny wooden pieces. She grabbed an enormous spool of fabric, which should have been far too heavy for a girl of her slight frame to lift, and hurled it at him. It slammed into his stomach and knocked him back a step, but since he didn't need to breathe, he wasn't winded by it.
She backed away from him, throwing herself flat against the wall as he brought his hammer around, the head slamming into the wall mere inches from her head, pulverising the brick and making her cry out. He barred her path with the haft, leering into her face as she cowered away from him. It was a shame that she was such an infant to the world of their eternal struggle; the fight she had given him was hardly capable of being savoured. Seconds had passed, and already he had her at his mercy.
"That red hair suits you, girl," he growled, "you've got a fire in you. I like that."
"What have you done with my mother?" she demanded, and he grinned. Even trapped, she wasn't giving up just yet.
"The others took her. They've got a grand design for you, Alyssa. They want your heart. With it, they can make a new Entity."
"One of us. We're not bound to flesh and bone like your kind are. We can do what we like, go to any place, at any time, and live a thousand lives, in any form we choose. It's liberating. You don't have to fear death when you can't die. But then, it does get lonely."
A fire poker smashed into the side of his skull, rattling his brain. His sheer surprise at her attack was enough to make him stagger away, but the impact split the skin at his temple, and he felt fresh blood trail down the side of his face beneath his mask. It had been a while since he had felt pain, and he didn't find the sensation all that unpleasant. It was good to see that she wasn't quite as disappointing as he first thought.
She darted away from him as he reeled, and then ducked as he swiped at her, demolishing part of the chimney breast and sending brick dust cascading over her green blazer as she ran. He rounded on her as she put the table at the centre of the room between them, clutching her poker in her right hand.
"You don't need to be a victim," he told her, as they faced off, each of them tense, ready to respond if the other made the first move, "you've got Rooder blood. You could join us."
Her eyes widened with horror. "I'd never...!"
"You wouldn't be the first," he added, eyes glinting inside his hood, "no, we've all chosen it once before, we Entities. You should consider it - an eternity without fear, or sadness, or pain, doing what you please, going where you choose? I've seen such wonderful things, Alyssa. Come with me and I'll protect you until the night is done. Then, I'll show you everything you'd miss if you lived only one life."
"No!" she screamed at him, and then turned and bolted for the door.
He let out a roar, smashing the table aside with a sweep of his hammer and charging after her. Before he could reach the exit to the backroom, he heard the bell above the front door jingle as she fled out into the street. In a rage, he smashed a shelf stacked with books to the ground and demolished a table piled high with luxurious fabrics. He ran to the door and kicked it off its hinges, sending it tumbling into the street, where it broke apart against the cobbles. When he looked up and down the street, he could see no sign of her, and he threw his head back, howling into the cloudy, midnight sky.
"You can't escape me, Alyssa," he bellowed, his voice echoing in the hush outside the tailor's shop, "before tonight is done I'll have your heart, one way or another."
He followed her trail - a taste of fear tempered with courage - to the auditorium on the hilltop. He sensed a connection between this place and one of his victims, inexplicably tied to them as he was. He didn't concern himself with the particulars. After all, he didn't really care about the travails of those that fell to his hammer before their deaths. Once they were bound to him in torment and misery, he could feed from them, and that was all that mattered.
He walked along the rafters, ignoring the creak of the narrow beams and the shuddering of the lights bolted to them. It had been some time since he had felt fear, particularly of falling. A plunge from any height was enough merely to jar him from his vessel. Even then, providing that the body was not too damaged, he could simply inhabit it once again. The perils of the world that turned humans into such cowards did not faze the Entities, undying as they were.
Alyssa stood below, her voice echoing up to him from where she was standing atop the hall's focal point. Peering down, he could make out the translucent shape of the girl from the tailor's shop, seated at the grand piano at centre stage. No doubt the Rooder was attempting to counsel the poor, dead child.
It was a wasted effort. Once bound to him, the spirits could not be freed. Over time, they would become hateful, driven mad by the never-ending suffering of their afterlife, and strike out at mortals, causing yet more anguish in their own turn. More food for him.
Eager not to waste time, he leapt down onto the stage, swinging his hammer down onto his quarry's head. Her instincts spurred her body into action before she even had time to truly see him, and she threw herself aside, avoiding the blow as he smashed apart the wooden boards into a hail of splinters. He felt the little spectre vanish, leaving only a scent of terror in her wake. He brought his hammer around, and heard the girl gasp as she ducked the wild blow.
She stumbled, falling onto her knees, and tried to scramble away, but he caught her by the arm, pulling her back towards him. She slammed into his barrel chest, and she reached up to try and push him away, only for him to lock the haft of his weapon against her back, crushing her to his front. Standing atop the podium as they were, they looked almost like they were lovers, locked in an embrace that only her struggling revealed to be laden with animosity.
"You've got a lot to learn, girl," he told her, his voice a low growl as he spoke into her ear, "you shouldn't concern yourself with the nipper. She's already gone, and there's nothing anyone can do to help her. Least now she serves a purpose. She feeds me. All that misery and frustration - it's delicious."
"You feed on people's suffering?" she asked incredulously, as she fought to pry herself away from him, "you're a monster. I'd never become like you. Never! You might as well kill me."
"Don't be so naïve, Alyssa. This world's full of suffering; they may as well suffer for a reason."
"Even if this world is full of suffering, death should bring peace. You're stealing that away from them."
"You'd see things differently through an Entity's eyes. All that self-righteousness, all that impotent rage - it's just youth. Live a few lifetimes, and you'll understand. Don't be so quick to throw away the chance to live forever. You don't know how much people would give for an offer like that."
"They can have it!" she snapped, lifting her right hand up, light glinting from a glass phial clutched within her fingers, before bringing it down on his forehead.
The object in her grip shattered, nothing but water spilling out over his head. He started to grin, wondering what she had hoped to achieve, and then he felt the liquid begin to burn. The flesh on his chest, where the fluid had dripped from his hood, felt like it was being seared, as though a branding iron had been pressed against it. Smoke and the smell of burnt meat rose from the blistering, peeling skin. It ran into his eyes and mouth, and soon he was blind, his words reduced to angry, wordless cries.
He shoved her backwards, and she lost her footing, slumping onto her posterior. Clutching at his face with his free hand, he swung his hammer back and forth, each blow strong enough to demolish her if she tried to harm him again. Instead of pressing her advantage, however, she ran down the steps that would lead her off the stage and hurried along the aisle to the hall's rear door.
Teeth bared in a snarl, he thundered after her, leaping over the orchestra pit and down into the carpeted gangway. His boots slammed down and then he was in pursuit, roaring her name as he followed her out and into the building's foyer.
The pain he felt when the holy water fell on his flesh was worse than anything he had felt in four lifetimes. Still, it waned with time. He could have quite easily just abandoned his body for another, but he liked this form. He had grown used to it - the way it spoke, the way it moved, the sheer size and power of it. He enjoyed the intimidation it caused, even in a Rooder.
He was certain that Alyssa would yield to him. She was strong, despite her inexperience, but still very much afraid. Eventually, the fear of her own mortality, the knowledge of what awaited her if she refused, would prove too great. She would succumb and he would take her into his protection, teach her the ways of the Entities, find a heart for her to consume, so that she could join him in his immortality. The child warriors were valorous, but surely even they could not refuse an offer of eternity.
As his anguish had waned, and his injuries repaired themselves, so had his fury. He did not hold it against his quarry to be terrified of him. Rather, that was what he prided himself on. But he wished to cure her of fear, more so than instil it. He knew that she would return to the auditorium. It was inevitable. And so, he found himself a perch atop the arches that supported its grand roof, and waited.
Sure enough, some time later, she reappeared, and he smiled.
"Welcome back, Alyssa," he called down to her, watching her as she cast about, searching for him, before finally she looked up, "what have you been up to, little girl? It isn't safe to wander around London at night."
"I've freed the souls you've enslaved," she told him, her voice confident in spite of the unwitting tremble that betrayed her fear, "you can't feed on them anymore."
At that, he laughed, a deep, booming laugh that echoed all throughout the courtyard. "There is no freedom for them. They exist only to suffer and indulge my hunger."
"Don't you feel weaker?" she asked, balking slightly at how little affected he seemed by her supposed deeds, "I united them with their treasured possessions. I laid their souls to rest. They won't sate you now."
His sinister chuckling trailed off. He didn't believe her, but all the same, he wanted to be sure. He searched his own essence, counting the tethers that bound him to the imprisoned spirits. Despite his immortality, despite his incorporeal form, despite his inability to feel fear or pain, a chill ran down his spine. She had been correct; there were fewer souls tied to him now than before.
"What have you done?" he growled, launching himself down from the ledge and crashing to the ground in front of her, "how dare you? After all I've offered to do for you, to give you an eternal life free of concern, this is how you repay me?"
"I have Rooder blood; you said so yourself. If it's in your nature to harm, then it's in mine to heal. I don't want to do it, but if you're going to kill innocent people, I have to destroy you."
"You?" he sniggered, "just a scared wretch of a girl, destroy me? Don't you know who I am? Don't you know what I am?"
She backed away as he took a menacing step forwards, but then she stopped, reaching into her pocket and withdrawing what looked like the handle of a blade. No physical weapon could harm him; he had nothing to fear from anything she might try to bring to bear. All the same, he was curious to know what effect she thought a knife without a cutting edge was.
Before his eyes, the item she held extended out from her hand, a majestic light that burned his eyes resolving into the shape of a bow carved with the symbols of the Rooders. The string was formed from a gently humming energy that caressed her fingers as she plucked it, a melodious note, like that of a harp, drifting from it. On her back appeared a quiver filled with silvery arrows, each one glowing in the radiance from her weapon. Thus armed, she turned to stare him down, no longer retreating.
"I'll offer once more, and only once more," he snarled, "accept an eternity with me, or die. One way or another, an Entity will be made. Will you be elevated, or sacrificed? That is your only choice."
She didn't answer. Instead, her hands moved with a quickness that betrayed her powers, and he recoiled as an arrow imbued with holy energy pierced his shoulder. It seared and blackened his flesh, and he howled, wrenching it out of his arm and casting it to the floor. It left a burn on his palm even as he discarded it, and he looked up to see another arrow aimed at his head, his enemy's lips pursed tightly.
He charged towards her, bringing his hammer around to block the second projectile, before lunging into a swing that demolished the fountain at the middle of the courtyard. Alyssa ducked and rolled, rising into a crouch and piercing him with another point of pure agony. He swung for her and she leapt away as he pounded a hole in the flagstones where she had been mere moments before. His left thigh was impaled, and he slumped to one knee, roaring in pain.
Another flash of light stung his right arm, the shaft protruding from his muscle, the point embedded deep beneath his skin. He snapped it off and threw it away, the broken remains continuing to burn and corrode his very essence. He charged towards her, swinging his hammer madly, missing once, twice, three times as she darted back out of his reach. Her speed, her reflexes, had been augmented by the power of the artefact she wielded, and as she evaded him time and again, she chipped away at him, eroding his strength.
"Little witch!" he bellowed, bringing his weapon up over his head and then slamming it down with all his might, "I'll crush you into nothing!"
It crashed against the floor, striking nothing, and he stood, breathing heavily, his head bowed. When he looked up, he saw her watching him and, with an expression that hovered somewhere between pity and disgust, she shot him through the chest. Crying out, he fell to his knees. He tried to abandon the defeated body of Sledgehammer, but the arrows pinned him to its flesh. He was trapped.
She lifted her bow to the sky and loosed an arrow that flew to the heavens, borne aloft by her power. It vanished amid the black clouds that were gathered overhead, and then they opened, as though parted by God's own hand. A shaft of colourless light poured out, falling upon the earth, falling upon him, incinerating his flesh and immolating his spirit. He burned for a timeless eternity, and then there was nothing but the cold blackness of death.
He awoke to the sound of rhythmic ticking, like that of a clock.
He tried to open his eyes, to peer out at the world he had been reborn into, but he did not have eyes, nor did he have hands to feel, nor lips to speak. He had reverted back to his insubstantial form, the one that all Entities assumed when their vessels had been destroyed. Except that, when he tried to move, hither and thither through the ether of existence as he had done so many times before, he was denied. He was bound and constricted, though by what means he couldn't say.
"Where am I?" he asked, though it would have been more accurate to say that he thought.
"The Clock Tower," a voice that was not any of his own responded.
"The place of the sacrifice?"
The Clock Tower was the place where all Entities were born. It was where he had been liberated from his flesh, as he drank from the heart of his own sister and slipped from the binds of his enfeebled, sickening body to live a new, unfettered life. For years he had suffered, cancerous and bedridden, until the others had shown him a better way.
He wondered if it was true, if that self-same location, which he had seen only once in his many lifetimes, was where he now existed.
"The place of your penance," the voice corrected, "you have been judged. For your crimes, you are condemned to spend four-hundred and eighty six years in this place."
"What? No! They never told me that could happen!"
"Nor did they require to. Gifts like yours will always come with a price. But you needn't worry. You will be released once your sentence is spent."
"And what am I to do in this place until then?"
"Reflect. Should you wish to relinquish your immortality, you need only say so. Then you will be allowed to pass peacefully into the next world."
"I am an Entity. I cannot die."
"As you wish."
"Wait," he breathed, though he had not lungs or a mouth to do so, "who are you?"
But the other voice had passed, vanishing into the emptiness, leaving only his consciousness to linger in the silence of an eternity, broken only by the unending tick of the Clock Tower.