The pain had subsided again, at least to a tolerable level. It no longer clouded his thoughts and blurred out all other sensations, not that there was much more to this place than that. Wherever he was, it was empty. Not the simple emptiness of a dry well, or a beggar’s purse, no, this was a hollowness far more profound, almost malevolent. This corner of existence seemed reserved solely for him.
As his mind cleared, he wondered for a moment how long he had been like this. How long he had been dead. There was no real means of measuring time here. It felt as though years had passed, each moment stretching into eternity. There was, however, the occasional landmark to ease the interminable night.
Every now and then, the fabric of his cosmic prison wore thin, and he could feel the tug of eternity lessen. He could almost see the sunlit world again, could almost feel a soft wind on his cheek, or hear the roll of thunder across the sky. It was at these moments that he would summon all of his strength, all of the rage and desperation that kept him clinging to this limbo, and would press at his bonds. There were brief instances where he felt sure that he was about to break through, that he would come screaming up out of the afterlife and burst back into the mortal world. Each time, just as he knew he was at that threshold, the claws of his torment would sink back into his soul, and the gateway would close, forcing him back into the infinite blackness.
At first he had thought this was just the nature of death, that this awaited every mortal past the end of a blade. But this last time, when he came so close to freedom that he could feel the sun on his face, he became aware, for the first time, of his jailer. Between him and life stood a presence, like the hollow void of his cell given form. For that one instant, he could see its mind, he knew its thoughts, and that glimpse shriveled his soul.
The thing actually envied him. It longed for the horrible loneliness and constant soul-rending pain of this cursed tomb, wanted nothing more to return to it, but was driven to see all life extinguished, so that the too would know the nature of the void. That it could harbor such evil was not the issue. He had seen such evil in life. But that this being could wear his skin, his very life, as a mask. That it could make him dance like a puppet put a cold lump in the pit of the stomach he no longer had.
There must be a way, he thought. I must not have tried hard enough, pushed far enough. There has to be a way to take it back, and send this creature back to the hell it so longs for. Next time I will be ready. Next time, I will take my life back…
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