They moved through the darkness in silence. Adelaide kept her eyes fixed on Julian’s electric blue halo and his tentacles, which floated around as though they were tasting the air. They walked in silence. Adelaide wasn’t sure where they were going or if Julian even knew. The memory of the thing that came out of the dark had seared itself into her brain. There was something familiar about it…
“I think I know what that thing was,” she said as they walked.
“Oh yeah?” Julian’s voice managed to sound hushed despite the fact it echoed around the space, “What?”
“It was something from when I was younger,” Adelaide said, “a picture I saw when I was a kid. Scared me like nobody’s business. Still does… actually.”
Julian nodded and seemed to think about it. The silence was not, as Adelaide had previously thought, absolute. In the distance she could hear noises. Not always just sounds, sometimes voices, low and sibilant. Murmuring to themselves in the dark.
“Well,” Julian said, trying to inject some jollity into his voice, “the fears of childhood are the most terrifying of all and they tend to stick. That thing that attacked us was a phobia all right, an irrational fear. It’s connected to that memory we want to find and it’s feeling defensive. That’s the reason you can’t remember it, I shouldn’t wonder. Too scared of this thing to be able to recall the details properly.”
“Makes sense,” Adelaide looked around them, trying to find something, anything in the darkness, “so what do we do about it?”
“It’s nearby,” Julian muttered, “and it’s stalking us. As long as you don’t think about it it’s weak, but the more you focus on it the stronger it will become. It’ll feed on your fear, it is your fear. If that doesn’t sound to cheesy.”
“Nope,” she said, “it doesn’t. More cheesy please.”
“Right,” Julian turned and gave her a thumbs up, “what do you want to talk about?”
“You,” Adelaide said, “I’ve been wondering. You said you were a vigilante when we first met. What did that mean?”
Julian paused, then he laughed. It was a weird echoey, bubbly laugh. Somehow it was also quite comforting.
“Oh it’s not much,” he said after a while, “I just head out onto the streets some nights. I go into some of the more… seedy areas of the hood and I clean up. I don’t hurt anyone, I just talk to them. Convince them what they’re doing is wrong. I can be quite persuasive, the mind reading helps. Plus, you know, the face tentacles. Then I offer them a second chance. Most of the employees of my protection business are those I help.”
“That’s pretty cool,” she said after a while, “so… the Director. What the hell is going on there?”
“Who can tell,” he said, “the Director works in mysterious ways. We have history, actually and we go a long way back. I knew her when I was a lot younger, more reckless if you know what I mean. She wasn’t the Director then, she only recently became Director, actually. I played chess with her once. I’m one of the few psychics that can actually read her mind and she still beat me. I see several moves in front of her and she was still even further ahead of me. It’s like wrestling an octopus, honestly.”
“And her plan?”
“Well,” Julian put his head to one side, “from what I can tell, and I’m only scratching the surface you understand, it’s like this. She wants to look good, basically, and she’s using Amadeus to do it. She hired someone to murder some super-humans and then got Amadeus to ‘find out’ who. She’d bargained that the deaths would pull me and my protection business into the area, so she’d thought she’d frame me. Kill two birds with one stone… I’ve always been a thorn in her side. Then you got in the way and proved I wasn’t the killer and she’s changed tactics. Now Amadeus is hunting the real deal.”
“Who happens to be hunting for the Source for her.”
“Genius isn’t she?” Julian chuckled, “and all this to get herself a promotion. She’ll do it too. Ruthless, to a fault, and her plan shifts about like a mirage. I would be surprised if-”
He stopped suddenly and Adelaide nearly crashed into his back. Stepping around him she stared at what was in front of him. Her eyes widened.
In front of them was something she hadn’t thought possible. Darkness, so dark it stood out against the blackness around them, stretched out before them, far into the distance. The surface of this gloom was strangely blinding, staring at it was difficult. Even Julian’s flickering light couldn’t pierce the deep shadows.
“The sea of dead memories,” he said quietly, “or, that’s what I like to call it.”
For a second, he looked like he was going to say something more. Then something hit him from behind and he tumbled forward, wobbling at the edge of the darkness. Adelaide grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. Then she turned.
A horrible face stared out of the darkness at her, illuminated by Julian’s halo. It’s eyes were huge, it’s hair matted and wild. It was a face she knew, one which came from her darkest memories, and now it was here. The lines that formed it were scratchy and it looked like a demonic pencil sketch. But it breathed and moved and shifted, its lines twisting and bending as it leaned forward and inhaled deeply, smelling her.
Then it roared and Adelaide stumbled back, teetering wildly. Julian put a hand out and stopped her.
“Don’t let it scare you,” his voice came from all around them, desperate and thundering, “don’t let it intimidate you. It’s not real. It can’t hurt you.”
The creature roared again. It’s mouth opened so wide its whole head seemed to twist backwards, revealing a gaping maw that spiralled down into a dark and scratchy blackness that yawned up at Adelaide.
“Okay,” Julian said, his voice low, trying to keep his tone calm, “maybe it can.”