Another chapter - sorry for the wait, I bought Skyrim in late June and it has consumed me since. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you very much for the support thus far.
I was running up a hill of long, muddy grass, out of breath and my chest burning up all the while. 'Alice' I thought. 'I have to get to Alice'. Slowing my pace and taking in the surroundings, two things were replaying in my mind: I had to get to Alice and I had to find a ruby-studded gold ring. Why - I had absolutely no idea. The sky was typical of mid-evening and a crimson moon was rising from the distant hills. 'I'm lost' I thought with dismay, mustering the strength to run more and more. As I breached the peak of the hill I was climbing, the ground became dry and the grass shorter, which suggested that a large group of people or a heavy object had been here recently. The sight before me was a creaking set of wooden gallows, eerily lit by the reddened moon in the background. There was only one figure present other than myself- a large man dressed in makeshift executioner clothing. The black, cape-like clothing hugged his body as he stood oppositional to the wind, which died down as I approached, giving him the illusion of levitating because his clothes twisted and folded back on his body like snakes. He raised a meaty fist and extended a single finger towards me. He twisted his hand slowly, almost in slow motion, until it became a beckoning finger. One glance at the taught gallows ropes told me to run, so I span to run back down the hill, only to meet the hooded executioner immediately behind me, no longer beckoning but gripping my throat and pulling me into the eternal, suffocating folds of his cloak.
I sat up, vaguely aware that I was no longer alone in the guest bedroom. Expecting to see Alice or my master, I squinted in the pitch black darkness and felt around to find that I was not in my bed like I expected, but what felt like dry grass. Was I dreaming or not? The hairs trembled and pricked on the back of my neck, as my breath turned steamy in the growing icy atmosphere. I swallowed down my growing sense of fear, steeling myself to face whatever the dark might throw at me. I thought to myself 'you're only dreaming, Tom' and took some comfort in this as I took a deep breath.
"Not anymore you're not" a deep voice drawled from across the room. I jumped a near foot in the air, my eyes searching the still total darkness. "It's more a nightmare" the voice added ominously.
"Show yourself!" I called out, my voice strong but myself still wary and cautious. Instantly, flames leapt up on the other side of the room in the fireplace, illuminating the outline of a tall and bulky figure. I jumped again despite my best efforts to keep some composure, drawing a cold and raspy laugh from the figure. I could still only see him as a black outline, which gave him an aura of mystery and quickened my pulse in the dark.
"Why is the fireplace over there, but I'm no longer in my bed?" I asked, trying to avoid any furthur personal points such as this figure's ability to read my thoughts.
"Forgive the intrusion" said the dark figure in a mocking tone. "I only wanted a little chat but you legged it, so I had to snap you out of your dream and appear in your -he looked around briefly- fancy room." I couldn't pinpoint the accent on this man, but it sounded like he was from the big city - London that is. It wasn't the dialect of a nobleman, however, but more that of a suburbian, simple man. By the rasp of his tone, I took him to be partial to pipesmoking and possibly a drinker. Ale was, as my dad would proudly say whilst enjoying a frothy mug, the common man's refreshment. Whatever this man's background, I did not trust him in the slightest.
"You're still technically dreaming. In fact, this isn't really happening. I can talk to you inside your head -his voice rang out momentarily as if inside my very ears- if I like, or snap my fingers and turn your little world upside down - he snapped for emphasis on the last syllable- if I feel like it... I control everything" he said matter-of-factly, before pausing as though awaiting my response.
"I don't believe you. You're just a bad dream" I managed, pulling the bedsheets over my head then sharply jumping backwards to find them turn to razor-sharp thorns and nettles in my very hands.
"I can do whatever I want to, and indeed I WILL - unless you do what I ask" the figure said sharply, and I really began to fear him. I pondered briefly over the extent of his powers, and at once the thought came into my head.
"What is it you want me to do? Are you a shadow wretch?"
"HA! I reckon you've been reading one too many of your master's books" he responded cruelly.
"Then how do you know who I am? How do you have such power?" I thought it wise to get as much information from this man as possible, maybe even get him distracted so I could reach into my cloak on the floor and retrieve some iron filings and salt.
"I really wouldn't try it" he chuckled gleefully, as I remembered his ability to tap into my thoughts. "Besides, you're not in your room anymore. This isn't relevant though, what I need is you to do something for me. A favour" he added, serious now and business-like. My head was still reeling at the situation I was placed within, in particular at how confusing it all was. I steeled myself, took a deep breath and did what my duty as a spook's apprentice demanded.
"I won't help you. You're a creature of the dark and a spiteful shadow wretch. I'm not afraid of you!" I shouted aloud, when immediately the room went deathly silent and the fireplace extinguished. I held my breath in the silence, which seemed to last an eternity, until I no longer felt in a dream-like trance but totally aware and in control again. I smiled and laid back on my pillow to return to blissful sleep, when a deep voice inside my own head laughed cruelly and ran my blood cold in dread.
"You're going to help me, Tom Ward, or I'm going to torture you to madness. I can show you visions of pain and misery that the Fiend himself cannot. I could convince you to murder your best friend, take your own life, sell your soul or cease to breathe!" the shadow wretch boomed. I held my head tightly with both my hands and winced, writhing around as his voice threw threats and insults at me from a terrifyingly unreachable place.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT?!" I finally shouted, ashamed that I had conceded to his torments so quickly.
"Now THAT is better! Let me show you, Tom..." he said smugly, before going quiet. For a moment, nothing happened, but then I felt myself sink into unconsciousness and become wrenched forwards into a dream.
Standing up, I found myself not on the hill with the gallows from earlier, but instead at a rickety old cottage. I was alone, but I felt drawn to the cellar of this home. Feeling oddly excited, I knew somehow to tear away the rug on the kitchen floor and open the trapdoor beneath, and before I knew it I was walking down a narrow winding staircase that felt somewhat familiar. Of course I knew I'd never been here before, and for this reason I calmed myself and desperately tried to make sense of my surroundings - I must be dreaming as someone else! I guided the body I was in knowingly through a heavy wooden, then towards a metal cage at the end of the room. Lying in the cage was a decaying skeleton, reaching through the rusted metal bars desperately for a jug of water someone had cruelly left just out of reach. That was when I noticed it - a gold necklace with a thick ruby-studded ring at the end of it, hanging around the skeleton's neck. Despite my terror, the body I was in eagerly approached and reached forward to snatch the ring, when suddenly the skull of this prisoner snapped round with a sickening crack, and his spindly bony fingers gripped my wrist painfully. I opened my mouth to scream - and then I woke up.
Don't worry, a lot might seem to happening very quickly, but everything will be explained. As usual, feel free to leave a comment and thank you for taking the time to read.