Here’s a short, rough piece I hammered out with a burst of inspiration. It’s related to the concept of a novel that’s been trapped in my head for years.
The dead boy hung suspended by his arms at one end of the stone chamber, illuminated by three burning candles.
Argent Pyrnemus leaned back against the wall as a wave of great weariness swept over him. He shut his eyes. He had come all this way for nothing. He should have known the whole undertaking was pointless. But no, he had ignored the wise voice in his head that whispered “give up” and had searched anyway. And here the boy was, but dead.
He began to notice just how oppressive the cold was underground. He lifted his gloved hands to his mouth and breathed into them. The steam clouded his glasses and turned the candles into hazy halos of flickering light. Off came the glasses. His scarf only succeeded in leaving minute streaks where the steam had been. He stuffed the useless things in his coat pocket. How right the voice in his head had been. “Don’t go,” it had said. “You’ll never find him,” it had mumbled to him as he tried to sleep the night before he set out. He let himself slide to the ground, his back hunched against the wall. Something stiff crackled inside his coat. Ah yes, the legends he had treasured so carefully. They were all lies, of course. He had no use for them now. Perhaps he would burn them and leave the ashes here with the boy.
Sluggish with the exhaustion of his failure, Argent pushed himself away from the wall and stepped toward the silhouetted, silent figure. His skin crawled as he moved closer. The boy’s body hadn’t decayed at all. Though the chains bore the rust of who knows how many years, though the boy’s clothes had withered into unrecognizable pieces of greyish cloth, his skin remained intact, almost pearlescent. Locks of tangled hair hid his face and hung below his shoulders. Argent had committed that face to memory. It was drawn on the papers he carried, on the letters he had stolen, and photographed in the torn photo that hung on the wall in his study. But as much as he wanted to see it in person, he dared not brush the curtain of tangles away. He moved past and stopped with his back to the suspended body. This impossibility, this hope that had remained constant as he risked his life and endured, was just a corpse, nothing else. He had no one else to stop the encroaching evil that he had resisted for so long. Stepping close to the flickering candles—three for the three pillars of the Athanati who would never die—he withdrew the papers and held the first one to the candle flame.
“Please…please kill me.”
The sudden voice caused Argent to have a minor heart attack. He dropped the papers. The loosened one fell into the candle and immediately caught fire. The smoke drifted up into Argent’s face as he stood transfixed.
“Put it out…the candle…”
Argent obeyed. He plucked the burning paper, singing his fingertips in the process, and blew the flame out. Part of the map, that part that depicted the way out of this prison, had been burned away. He was too shocked to be bothered.
“You…you’re alive…” He couldn’t find the right words. As he struggled to find his voice the boy pulled in a strangled breath. It was clear to Argent that the boy was suffocating. With his arms pinioned in that way his lungs couldn’t expand unless he held himself up. How was he not dead?
Then Argent realized the truth. It filled him with inexpressible horror. He felt suddenly unable to breathe himself.
“Please,” the boy whispered. “Please kill me.”
Argent didn’t move. He was still standing in front of the candles, his hands smeared with ash. “Kill you?” he repeated. Somehow his mind couldn’t absorb the concept. He fumbled for the non-existent glasses on his face and remembered they were tucked away. Fishing them out he stepped around until he stood before the boy.
“Please,” the boy gasped. He lifted his head. Argent stepped back in horror.
Here, here was the physical evidence of the years the boy had spent in a living death. Dried blood stood out in a trickle from his ashen lips. Deep shadows ringed his eyes. The eyes themselves were hideously bloodshot, almost inhuman in their disfigurement. His cheekbones resembled those of a skeleton. His collarbone and ribs jutted through his skin, obviously strained beyond their limits. How blind Argent had been not to see that. No mortal could survive such torment.
But the boy, Levi, wasn’t mortal.
Argent Pyrnemus cleared his throat. He longed to rejoice but he hadn’t time now. They had to move quickly, and he knew that escorting a boy who was mostly dead would not be easy in hostile place in the dark. “You desire death, I know. But you have no idea how long I’ve been looking for you. And I’m not about to let you go, Levi son of Peter. Now let me get you down.”