The hatred that radiated from the old man's voice in my head made me flinch.
The King began to cry, sing-song wails that ate at my sanity and cut into my intestines, threatening to bring up the remains of the meal that I had shared with Jared and Rodan that morning. I swallowed, but the bitter taste of bile that filled my mouth wouldn't go away.
I could sense the old man at my side, his attention focused on me, waiting.
"What do you want from me?"
I felt so sick that I could barely form the words in my mind.
"You know. You know what to do." I didn't know whether it was the old man's voice that answered me, or whether it even was one voice or many, coming from all around me. "You know what to do."
No, I thought. Just let me out of here. I turned, trying to retrace my steps towards the entrance. Something grabbed my ankle and I fell, kicking at my assailant with my free foot as I continued to fall without ever hitting the floor.
I got up and faced the old man. It was still dark, but that didn't bother either of us. We both knew what to do. We acted as one. The next moment we were on top of the King, grabbing, pulling at the heavy furs and velvets under which he was hiding, tearing, stripping away the layers until he was naked under our hands.
"Light," the old man said.
Yes. Oh, yes. Let it all come out into the open. I got up and extended my senses, red-hot, writhing snakes that tore themselves from the very core of my being and extended, tearing the flesh from my chest, until they found their aim.
Light. Yes. The tendrils stretched, and stretched until I could bear no more and gave in, allowing them to carry me to where the windows were. Without any conscious effort on my part my hands found the heavy fabric that kept out the light and, using my full weight, began to tear it down. Light. No more secrets. No more lies. I laughed, as my fiery touch set the heavy drapes aflame. Yes. Oh, yes.
For a moment I was lost in the dark. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. When I looked up I realised I was able to see, the room being dimly lit by the early daylight streaming in through a tear in one of the drapes.
"Please," the King whispered. "End it. Kill me. Please."
I looked down on him. He was on his back on the floor, his clothes torn away from his chest, his exposed skin yellow and saggy. I willed my hands to open and to move away from his throat. There were angry, red marks were my fingers had been, and red trails of blood where my nails had broken the skin.
"Sacrifice." The voice seemed to come from everywhere around me. "It is time. End it all. No more suffering. No more death. End it. You know what to do."
I sat down heavily, pushing myself backwards across the floor until I could rest my back against the nearest wall. The frenzy that had possessed me earlier was wearing off, leaving only loathing and nausea in its wake. I wiped my face, surprised to find that I was sweating heavily.
I took care to look away from the King, disgusted by the death and decay that seemed to emanate from his every pore, and afraid that if I took one more look at him the urge to kill would overwhelm me.
"Help me," I whispered. "Please help me."
Calm down, I told myself, staring at the patch of brightening sky that I could see through the torn curtains. It was getting light. The sun was somewhere out there. All through the city there would be people getting up, opening their curtains, starting to make breakfast. I thought of the lush land that surrounded Heartstone. Shepherds would be out with their flocks, and farmhands would be working in the fields. I took a deep breath. There's life out there, I told myself. People living their lives, loving each other, taking care of the land.
I sank back against the wall, no longer able to remain upright.
"Oh, gods, what have we done?" The old man sounded as drained as I was, and all the anger seemed gone.
"It's alright, we didn't kill him. At least, I don't think so."
For a moment, neither of us spoke.
We need to get out of here, I thought. He may be able to get at us outside as well, but as long as we stay here we don't have a chance.
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