SILENT NIGHT
The light of the lamps is burning low. The oil in them is slowly running out and one of them will soon have to change the fluid. But let us first describe the rest of the library before we get to that. From my vantage point I can almost see the entire open space. The walls vault a bit inward at the top creating a nice dome-shape that lends the room an old kind of cosiness. The walls, almost entirely hidden behind bookcases and old tapestries are an ochre kind of yellow; deep and warm. The bookcases that range around the room's long oval shape and stand in parallel lines in it's furthest corner, are made of deep brown veined wood that is quite common on the planet and seems to glow with a changing fire from within.
A whole chapter could be spent on the tapestries and vigils that hang on the walls. But though I'm no fool I cannot pretend to know much about family crests or tapestries. Nor do I know what the books on the shelves describe. I know however that they are never left unsupervised and that even my own weary eyes would better not touch their alien scripts and covers. 
But what is most likely the main feature in the library, to my unknowing eyes, are the long study-tables that are always occupied by the same six young people. They have been here for as long as I have sat here on the window silk. Sometimes they rise, to eat, drink, go to the bathroom or change the oil, like one of them does now.
It is one of the females, Altoona, who changes it this time. She is the one sitting closest to the lamps though there seems to be some changing rhythm to the oil-duties. I haven't quite watched this routine as closely as I would have normally since these humans so intrigue me. They are the essence of paradox. All of them early twens and yet none of them showing the usual exuberance that comes with that age. They seem to me more like ancient monks in a medieval monastery copying endless Latin texts until they go blind. The setting is about right for that scenario, with a dark night outside, nothing in sight beside the cliffs and the sea crashing yards below. There is nothing else, no moon, no stars, no storm...
But I wander, as I am prone to do. I must stay on track and tell about the things that are of interest. No-one cares for the weather, not that I can tell you much about that, I suppose it is winter, the water cold and treacherous below an overcast sky.
Maybe the young woman Altoona will look out as she changes the oil. Maybe she will cast her eyes up to the ceiling-window and see me sitting here. Would she be frightened? Would she find my cold black eyes threatening? Would she scream? I hope not. I would like to stay here a little longer and observe...
The woman Altoona passes below me, too caught up into her own problems to see me. At moments like these I almost burn with curiosity to know what keeps these six people together. They are not the sort of people who would normally become friends. I sense tension in the air, a thing I've gotten quite good in. I almost feel like they don't behave as real persons. In stead the long stay together seems to have stereotyped them. As if they all want to prove that they are different from each other.
Altoona passes below me. She doesn't look up, why should she? She can't sense presences like I can. Like I have learned to survive. She walks below me, her mop of black hair restrained by a multi-coloured headband. It was the headband that first attracted me to her. It seemed like it was the only speck of colour in this grey world of eternal night. I followed her then, and she led me here. Little guide, I call her since she apparently is the most organised and practical. 
She changes the oil in the lamps very carefully, without spilling a drop. But soon the oil will run out, as will the water and the food. I can feel her worrying about what will happen to this little group of survivors then. Determination appears in her face. Yes, she will stay fighting, she's not a person who gives up easily. This I sense clearly.
Softly I relocate to the next window to keep following her. It seems unlikely that anyone will notice me. In the day that I've watched them not one of them has looked up. And why should they? To see eternal darkness like my own personal darkness? I would look away if I were able... and so will they.
From window to window I flutter, hanging from window silks and sticking to the glass, not once making a sound. Silence is another thing I've gotten fairly good in. My eyes shift from the brave Altoona to the girl sitting next to her. I sense youth in her, the innocence that's only started to leave her has been shaken. I've heard them call her Jypress. It's a name I've never heard before, but it glides easily from my mind's tongue. With it come scenes of little striped kittens playing together. It is an image that describes her remarkably well. 
While I'm watching her she gets up. There's something in her posture that makes me wince. She is beaten, but not ready to show it and ask for help. She walks as calmly as she can past the others who look at her with knowing eyes, but are unskilled to comfort her. I follow her from window to window, my view on her life fragmentary at best. It is in the hallway that she collapses. My heart weeps for her, this grown up child with no illusions left. She reminds me of me and I don't want her to end up like your storyteller. It's a lonely road to walk and not one I wish to anyone. Knowing what I know now I would not make the choice again if it was offered to me. Death seems far more pleasurable than the life I lead now. Wandering like a ghost, lost for all who knew me. Vanished from the world's records. And yet I am still here. Je pense donc je suis.
As the young woman below me weeps her silent tears I move away from the window that shows me her world. In stead I turn my eye to the world around me, trying to forget that which I know to be real. Looking at the destroyed world in front of me, calms my spirit. There's something strangely soothing at the night, when all life is sleeping, though what life there is left, it is definitely not sleeping.
It is strange to sense that the tension that is clinging to the mortals below also starts affecting my own thoughts. I should not be worried, I'm not the one stuck here. But maybe that is what kept me thinking. Maybe I've become too attached to these 6 humans. But it is too late now to leave.
Too late... I remember another time when it was too late to leave. It was dark then, as it is here now. The memory of a time when I could still be considered normal pains me too much. I have lost too much already in my life.
I turn my attention back to the main library. The four people in there do little to keep my mind from wandering to times I'd rather forget. Maybe it's time to look for the other member. The young man banished to the kitchens to cook for the others. 
I fold open my wings and relocate to another large room in the castle. The kitchen is one massive room of shining chrome and black tiles. There is room for over 5 chefs, each with their own crew, but now only one lonely figure is working in it. The food he's preparing is a lot less fancy than what the kitchen is used too. Once this kitchen provided food for all the guests staying in the renovated castle.
The young man named Pollander is buttering sandwiches and then adds slices of cheese and some lettuce. It's lonely in the kitchen... and dark, it's the kind of scene you would expect in a horror movie, except that there are no monsters left. Except me of course, people have called me monster at times. But I intend no harm to come to these humans.
Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if I were this youth, forced to work alone in the kitchen. It doesn't seem to bother him, but then, it wouldn't bother me either. I've always been a loner, though I suspect that Pollander isn't independent by choice. Even I have to make an effort to keep seeing him as a real person and not an irritating piece of scenery you can hit. Pollander could really drive someone to murder, maybe the reason why he hadn't argued about taking the lonely kitchen-shift permanently. 

I don't really know what ticks people of first, but as I sit watching my patience is tested by the youth whistling a tune in unbearably off-key notes. After ten minutes of hearing the screeching, strangled version of 'smells like teen spirit' I've had enough, that song was never meant to be whistled and certainly not by Pollander.
I fly up again and take the time to circle under the pitch black sky. The world is only illuminated by the half light of the night, because even on a moonless night like all have been since I've gotten here, there is light. I find myself tempted to look for other lit windows in the castle that used to be a hotel, but I know that search will be fruitless. I would be wasting time, mine, theirs... for time is limit, I can smell it, like ozon in the air.
The thought of danger brings me back to Jypress. The thought that she might get hurt pains me more than she'll ever know. I fly back to the small light I see in a first-floor bathroom. I know it is Jypress hiding. Silently I unfold my wings and let myself glide on the cold air. Carefully I look in.
I am both happy and somehow jealous to see that she is not alone. It is Tysterin that has come to her. I wonder why, in all the days I've watched them I have never seen him actively start something. Why would he come after her now? I've recognised the jealousy already and I know that I'm just an old fool for loving the girl. Knowing and changing are two very different things. I arch forward when I see Tysterin is about to speak.
"Jypress?" I hear him ask.
"I'm coming!" she answers, her voice trembling silently. 
She quickly splashes some water in her face, but even from my vantage point, I can see that her face and eyes are red. She opens the door and Tysterin enters before she can close the door. He starts talking before he even sees her face.
"Where were you? Altoona is working her but off down stairs and..." he looks up, "Oh, hey, listen I know we can be a bit bitchy at times. It's a hard time for all of us, but just tell us to stop. I think we would listen, well maybe not Zaniom... And now I'm rambling." Tysterin says, blushing a bit.
"No, go on... It's the longest I've heard you speak."
"Well there is little time for talk. Just work and sleep. I haven't been my usual laid back self either. I'm not used to all this work."
"I hadn't noticed." Jypress says.
"Really? Because I've been getting looks..."
"Everyone's getting looks."
"Yeah, I keep score on staring contests between Zaniom and Altoona." Tysterin grinned. "There! A smile." Tysterin says, pleased for making the girl feel better, "Do you want to come back down? Or are you going to stay a bit longer?"
"No, I'll come if they need me."
"If they even need me and got Rettiv from the kitchen then they definately need you."
"Rettiv is there?" Jypress asks.
"Yes, so no-one will be yelling at you." Another grin, "Poor Rettiv, I think I understand why he prefers to be in the kitchen on his own."
"I understand it all too well myself." Jypress adds, "Sometimes I just want to look at the sky to calm down. But the sky isn't there."
"I know. We'll get out."
"We have too."
They leave me on the window silk. The door closes and the bathroom returns to it's silent state. The light is switched off from the outside and my vision takes a time to adjust to the sudden darkness. 
Slowly the nothingness takes shape and form again. Again I tell myself that I should leave, just fly up and get away before this world swallows me. I'm afraid of what might happen next. But my heart tells me that I won't leave, for the first time in years the voice of my heart screams louder than the voice of reason.
I fly up and land on the Library windows again, stretched out I look down from the very topmost through the coloured glass of the beautiful carved window. The library below seems ablaze with fire, though I know that's just the effect from looking through a yellow-orange piece of glass, it seems almost ominous. I tell myself it's just the mood of the world getting to me, my heart can't overpower all my reason.
I shift my eyes to the two persons I haven't told you about. Zaniom is sitting in front of the computer, smoking a cigarette and just looking angry. I doubt he really is angry, or else he controls it well. His eyes are focused on the screen, not on anyone else and the strikes of his fingers on the keyboard are swift and silent without an indication of held back rage. 
Everything about the man, the oldest in the company, seems to speak of distance. He almost never speaks, he is cool and calculated and I doubt any of the others even know what his last name is. Even his looks keep other people at bay, the spiky red hair, the long black coat that could hide so many weapons, but to my knowledge has never hidden anything that dangerous, and the cigarette always hanging from the corner of his mouth, like an invitation to try to mess with it's owner.
What interests me as a watcher of human kind is whether this is real, or just a pose. Maybe there's some underlying trauma that is keeping Zaniom isolated. 
Just as I'm about to explore this possibility, I see Rettiv getting up. Rettiv I wonder about even more. He is definitely keeping up appearances. He is smart, the smartest of the group and yet he looks and acts nothing like it. Up unto this point I can understand him, it's never easy to belong to the edges of a group, the very smart and very dumb are shunned here as where they on my own planet. To my relief, I belong to neither of those fringes. 
But Rettiv worries me because he shows no fighting spirit. Almost like he is dead already. he reads, but I doubt his mind is on the words in the books. I'm fairly sure Rettiv will be the first to die... and I doubt it will be from starvation. That is if Pollander doesn't get killed first, but I think the boy will learn how to behave and keep his thoughts to himself. Maybe he'll learn to stay close to the leaders, to Altoona and Zaniom, I don't see them killing him. But I can see Rettiv doing it... possibly just to relieve him from his suffering.
Yes, it is Rettiv I worry about. Not in the least for what he could do with Jypress. As I'm thinking about the possibilities, Rettiv gets up and walks over to the bookcases. He has to pass Zaniom to put away his book and get a new one. The library seems to hold it's breath and so do I. There something about the way Rettiv walks that tells me trouble will come from this. Quickly I look around for Altoona, but she has fallen asleep on her desk, only Pollander is awake, but he'd work like water on a greasefire. 
In slow-motion I see Rettiv walk... and trip over some carpet flipped over by Zaniom's chair. Rettiv falls and immediately I know that the outburst that I've been expecting has arrived.
Zaniom looks up and smiles just a bit before he offers Rettiv his hand, but it is enough. Rettiv slaps away the helping hand and gets up on his own. His face is red from anger, though it must look like embarrassment to Zaniom. 
"Look what you did, you idiot!" Rettiv finally screams.
The look on Zaniom's face changes to baffled for a split second before it sets back into anger and he gets up as well, towering above Rettiv. "Calm down." he says, but Rettiv takes the advise the wrong way.
"Stop telling me what to do. I don't need orders from anyone."
"Neither do I." Zaniom replies ice-cold.
The argument continues and to my relief I see the door open. Jypress and Tysterin are back. But neither of the arguers see them come in. Altoona does, just waking up from the noise of the argument. But she is still sleepy and can't immediately make out what is going on.
Tysterin gets into the argument, trying to calm down the two other man, a little while later followed by Altoona, but the fight has gone on too long already. All of them are frustrated, irritated and tired. There's no way it will calm down.
"Sometimes I just wished we never had been down there!" Jypress suddenly screams.
My pointy ears arch up. This is the first time I hear something about why it were these people survived. Maybe this is the reason why I stayed, to learn why they are alive. 
"Don't say that." Altoona says softly, "We'd be dead."
"We'll be dead in a few weeks anyway!" Jypress shouts back, promptly caving in and starting to cry. She really didn't mean to scream but what she said is true, in the darkest hours of her mind she wishes she were death.
And I, I feel sorry for her. I know how she feels, to want to die, but not being able to. Not able to leave that tiny glimmer of last hope that still shines in the distance. While all the while knowing you'll never reach it. You'll never get back what you lost, no matter how hard you try.
Jypress runs out of the library, her eyes filled with tears. I desperately want to follow, but the need to know is stronger. I want to know how they survived, how they came to be here together. I inch closer to one of the vertical windows. Hanging upside down, I listen more carefully.
"It was your fault, Zaniom." Rettiv says.
"You just blame me for everything, don't you!" Zaniom cries out, his temper lost in all the commotion, not even he can keep his cool in this place, "Without me we'd all be dead! If you guys hadn't been locked up with me in that basement slash bomb shelter there would be no-one left."
"Is that such an improvement? To be called thief and be locked up with the one who really did it, only to spend the rest of our days together in agony?" Rettiv asks. 
I'd always thought Rettiv would first speak of suicide, using some ancient quote, but I was wrong. That Jypress spoke of dieing first has shocked me. Maybe these people aren't as different as I thought, maybe they are growing closer together now that they have spend enough time with each other, trying to belong. In fact, isn't it what I'm trying to do? Belong?
"Burning to death doesn't seem that much better to me!" Pollander enters the argument, getting dark looks from both sides. To my surprise, Jypress dashes back into the library, she must have just been waiting outside the library, venting her frustration. Clearly nearly at the end of her strength she positions herself behind Rettiv and says soflty: "Starving to dead isn't a treat either."
Tysterin gets up and looks at Jypress: "We can't give up hope now, Jypress, I told you we'd be ok."
"You're dreaming." Rettiv says in disgust.
"If I am, then why couldn't this be a dream? I mean... when did our lives become this complicated? After we met each other, it seems to me. Maybe you're all figments of my imagination and I'm really sound asleep, or even in a coma!"
"Then why fight?" Rettiv asks.
"Because we have to." Altoona sighs.
I watch as the woman wearily gets up and walks to the center of the library. "Because we have to damned!" Some strength returns to her, but I see that the sleepless nights have not been good for her. She is crumbling too. The whole group is crumbling, this could be the end. 
My heart cries out not to let it happen. Again it is the girl, Jypress that stirs my compassion. It is for her that I shall lift my cover. To save her from the destiny I call my own. Maybe I am crazy to even think that we have the same destiny in our lives... thinking that we are connected. 
But maybe I'm the seventh of this little group of lost people. Maybe I do belong here. It's been so very long since I last belonged anywhere that I might just be a little too eager to belong. But what else is there for me to do now? Can I still change my feelings? Not likely.
I remember nights spend in fear, hiding below the covers and the countless stories I told to comfort her... but she does not remember them, how could she? She is not my Garayn. Not the daughter I lost so many years ago, and yet so much like her I cannot think about what would happen when she would stay here and I move on.
Then the decision I so loathe to make, is made for me. Jypress again. Oh how she reminds me of her who I have lost. It is the girl who looks up first. Maybe to avert her eyes from looking anywhere else, trying to find peace in the darkness like I once did.
She sees me, with my dark eyes pressed against the window, looking into their lives without even a speck of shame in my thoughts. I would not resent her if she screams, but she doesn't. 
Soon all there eyes are pointed towards me. Last chance to get away. If I don't go now, I'm in it till the end. But the urge to stay is too strong. So I stay. And they watch.
Lightning flashes behind me... so there still is light in this world, even if it is the destructive kind. But the lightning exposes my form and shows them that I am real. No-one says a world, no-one asks who I am. Maybe they really think I am an animal, just two black eyes watching them, hungry, but clinging to life in this broken world. But I know that some of them see me for what I really am. Something that doesn't belong in this world. Something that knows more of them than they do themselves.
Then the fragile silence that engulfs them breaks like a bubble of soap and sounds are all around them. The world that had been holding her breath finally gives up the wait.
"What is that?" Altoona asks.
"Looks like a giant bat." Rettiv says while Zaniom hums the melody of 'Bat out of Hell', getting his share of dirty looks.
"I bet it's just an animal." Pollander insists.
"He's not ordinary." Jypress says, looking at the figure with fear in her eyes. There's something about him that makes her sad. Maybe it are his eyes, so large and dark without any emotion in them. Or at least no emotion she can see.
"What do you think it wants?" Tysterin finally asks.
"He wants in." Jypress says.
"He?" Zaniom asks, "Why do you think it's a he?!"
Jypress looks at her feet. She doesn't like people yelling at her. Zaniom had bothered her from the start, he always seemed like a bomb about to blow up. He had so much rage inside him and Jypress knows she won't be able to handle that. She searches for an explanation, but it is useless, for all she knew she just used he because the bat's so big. Still she doesn't want to admit that to Zaniom. So she just stays silent, her nerves ready to break down again. Jypress knows that she wasn't cut out for this life, she isn't a survivor.
But the bat comes to her aid unexpectedly. I, Riyagh, know the already tense atmosphere is about to explode. Jypress on the edge of crying, Zaniom about to explode in anger and Altoona, the one who might stop Zaniom before he cries out, too tired to find the right words to calm down the others.
"Stop..." I whisper, transferring the thoughts into their heads. I never figured out how that worked, but I'm glad I have the ability now. As if struck by lightning the situation explodes still, but not targeting Jypress as I feared, but me.
"Who are you?" Tysterin asks. 
He surprises me again by taking the effort to ask the first question, though an obvious one. Maybe this ordeal has some positive effects to counter the negatives. Then his question hits me. Who am I? 
"I am Riyagh." I say, leaving it at that. Leaving out everything that defines me. For a moment they are all quiet, staring as I stare back at them. I start to wonder if what I did was right, I know I should have left yesterday at the last. I've always been someone dwelling in the past, that is my curse and it will be my undoing at some time most likely... but maybe staying here were my first steps into the future, even though they were made for a ghost in my past. I decide to try again.
"There is danger here." I say, maybe a bit too gloomy, but then, the situation is dire. Within a month they'll all be death. I know it, they know it.
"Tell us something we don't know." Rettiv shrugs. My observation of him was right, he has already made his peace with dieing and is just living out his life. I'm sure he would have ended his life within days of running out of food. Hanging himself, or jumping from the cliffs are my best guess about what method he'd use, but that's being morbid, another one of my less interesting traits.
"Like how you got in here." Zaniom says.
I would have smiled, weren't it that my fangs might have scared them. Trust on Zaniom to stay with the useful facts. He knew I wasn't from this place... my appearance told them that and the fact that I am able to speak is an even greater hint in that direction.
"It won't be easy..." I say.
"What?" Pollander asks, getting an angry look from Zaniom.
"Getting us out of here." Altoona whispers, trying to grasp that they have found a way out, or rather that the way out has found them.
"The passage will be dark and frightening for you who aren't used to it." 
But I know they've already made the decision to make me guide them away. I also know that I will try to guide them through at the best of my skill, but the journey through the dark will be long and confusing.
"Could you make it anytime soon?" Zaniom urges the bat hanging upside down in front of them. 
I can only ignore them and try to focus on the vortex again. I can't actively search for a destination, but I can scan the tunnels and alleys to look for life signs. Maybe I  could control the portals... if I tried hard enough, but they don't need to know where they're going and neither do I. Away is far enough.
Slowly the black portal opens in front of them, I can sense that it is unlike all that they expected it to be. I'll be leading them into an atrium, a dark deserted place with a dried up fountain and dead bougainvillea on the walls. A staircase leads up and away. Though it is dark in there, I've never seen a ceiling and I suspect it is much like the darkness in this destroyed world. Something is blocking the light.
"Through there?" Jypress asks.
"Through there." I say, trying to sound reassuring, but I know it isn't that easy. The alleys and roads sometimes change directions. I've urged them to hold hands, but I know held hands aren't as strong as the powers working in the vortex.
"Follow me." I say and fly past the fountain.
I've been through here so many times that I hardly notice it anymore. But I see the others looking as they pass through, looking at the broken fountain, bone-dry and crumbling. They do not know what it once hid and it is better that they don't. I don't want them disturbing it's secret, now long turned to dust.
After they have looked everywhere in the small atrium I head for the stairs and call out for them to follow me and stay close. Hoping for the best. I look and see Jypress is the 4th in the row, I'd wanted her to be closer, but it'll have to do. Behind her walks Zaniom and that gives me at least a bit of comfort, he isn't someone who easily panics. 

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Follow Riyagh, Altoona and Tysterin to Apocalypse Continued
Follow Zaniom, Pollander, Rettiv and Jypress to Touched by Darkness
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Cy's Apoclaypse - Abri's Midsummer Night's Dream
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