The door thuds closed behind us and I try to swallow my fear. He could’ve shot me down anytime he’d wanted. He’s either kept me alive so my enemy can claim me again, and continue running tests, or he’s a friend. I’m praying for the latter.
“Names, Mud,” he says, lifting a hand in greeting. Heavy dark circles are already starting to appear under his eyes, Shifting has made him weak and tired. His body isn’t built for it. “What’s yours?”
I ignore his question, “How are you able to Shift?”
“It is a secret of my kind, how do you know the way?”
He blinks, taking in my face with sudden realization. “You’re a Wonder?”
I stop myself from taking a step back, in my passion I didn’t notice his ignorance and now I’ve given him a gem of knowledge that could be used against me.
If he was a friend, he may not be now. I decide to press my luck. He’s too tired to Shift again anytime soon, he doesn’t need to know I am too, “Answer me, human. Or I’ll Shift into something that will loosen your tongue.”
“Heard they had one of you locked up,” he says. “Said they were doing research on how to lengthen a Shift. Must’ve been you, eh? Got away didn’t ya? Clever.” He must see the fear in my eyes, because he adds, “Don’t worry, I ain’t the kind to turn you in. Lucky I spotted you before anyone else, though.”
Mind spinning with new facts, I sit hard. My capture was common knowledge. Why did no Ancient come to my rescue?
“Come on,” Mud motions for me to follow, “Let’s get somewhere safe so we can talk.”
I glance around the room, the hairs on my arms standing on end, “Is this place not safe?”
“Hardly.” Mud lumbers toward a thick metal door.
With a last scan around the old garage, a shiver runs through me. I slept here. I’d thought I was safe. Picking up my pace, I reach Mud just as he turns to close the metal door. It must be heavy because he strains to get it closed. There’s a loud clank as the door settles and Mud locks it. A shiver runs through him. Either it’s exhausting from Shifting, or whatever we’ve just locked out scares the hell out of him.
He glances my way, “There are worse things in the world these days.”
“Worse than my captors?” I hadn’t meant for it to sound like an accusation, but my words are clipped and harsh.
“Not saying you didn’t have it bad, just … there’s worse out there that I’d rather not cross. Don’t mind hiding you and paying for it with my life, if comes to that, but,” another shiver courses through him, “won’t face what comes out at night.”
My curiosity and fear are peaked. What is he talking about? Like navigating a maze, I search my mind for what terrors exist in this world that could scare a man like Mud.
“Don’t know how long they’ve had you, but the world’s changed, little Wonder.” He sighs and sits on the cold cement floor. “It’s not a kind place.”
It’s then I realize we’re in a hole. I’d thought we were in the beginnings of a long hallway, but from the weak fluorescent light, I realize my error, three walls of old concrete surround us.
The only way in and out is through the door.
What’s become of the world that this giant would rather hide in the dark than face the night?
A low groan reaches my ears.
Mud shifts away from the door. “It’s begun. Best get some rest while we can.”
“The Horrors … don’t remember when it started, but I reckon Hell’s overflowing. Evil spirits and the dead haunt the night now. More demons than dead, though. They come for the living … seen many friends taken by one touch.”
I move away from the door. How are we safe here?
“Don’t worry, they can’t get through the door.”
But I am worried, because if what he says is true then I know what must come. I’ve found the end of the maze. It’s been a century or more since the Ancients gave the Wonders a prophecy. But I remember every word they spoke.
Mud continues talking. Sharing stories of the terrors and carnage that have come because of the Horrors. I only catch a word here or there. My mind focuses on the prophecy. The Ancients said this would happen. They said the world would be turned over to the Knight Horrors, but that it wouldn’t last because a Wonder would come … I gulp past the knot in my throat. Never imagined it’d be in my lifetime. Never imagined I’d have a part to play. My jaws clench, I shouldn’t have Shifted earlier, I could have used the strength to Shift into something, to outlast this evil. But I have none left.
My body shakes, fear consuming every pore. Though I hardly know him, I curl next to Mud and try to find some peace in his large presence. But I know I’m just delaying the inevitable. I must rise and leave this tiny space of safety and warmth. If there’s any hope for the world, I must stand now and do what I can.
I rise on trembling legs and lift a hand to the door. My strength fled. I’ll have no protection against the Horrors. But that’s what the prophecy spoke of, ‘… a Wonder would come, in the weakness of man, and destroy the grasp the Horrors have on the world, by sacrificing their life.’ I don’t know why I’m surprised. I will not be the first of my kind to die protecting the human race, nor the last. I only hope I can remember the words of the Oath.
“What are you doing, Wonder?”
“I must go.” Mud won’t understand, and I don’t expect him to. It takes all my wits to focus on this solution. To choose this death.
A low rumble stops both of us, it’s getting louder with every second. Rock scraping against rock. The ground wavers under us, as if it fears the death coming toward it. “Something’s breaking through the wall.” I can’t explain, but I know it’s my enemy, come to take me back. “We can’t stay here.”
I pull the door open, adrenaline aiding the last reserves of strength, to open the heavy door. I hear Mud shouting for me to stop, but we’ll be crushed if we don’t leave this place.
A wall of ghosts and demons greets me. With the prophecy fresh in my head, I walk forward and they part to let me pass. I reach back for Mud, “Come with me.” There’s still time to save this human.
Mud’s eyes are wide and his mouth hangs slack in shock. I reach for his arm and drag the large man toward me. He follows on numb feet, shuffling and making little noises of fear.
It’s going to work. They can’t touch me. The thought fills me with renewed hope. I will send these evil spirits and dead back where they belong. Even still, hands stretch toward me, making my skin crawl.
I shove Mud toward a large tool chest, “Hid here.” He does as he’s told. The time has come. A shiver runs through me, when I utter the Oath, to send these Horrors back where they belong, it will cost every fiber of my strength and I will leave this shell of a body behind. The words are too powerful for any but an Ancient to live through them.
But it must be done.
With one last glance at Mud, I call on all my strength and as I open my mouth, I hear the familiar buzz of an alarm calling me away.