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The Architects: The Illusion of Death – Part 1, CH 13

The screams would crescendo, reaching a frenzied peak of almost inhuman pain, and then cut off or fall weakly into imperceptibility then pitch back up again. An orchestra of human suffering. Even in the reinforced walls of his cell, the cries were so loud he couldn’t sleep. Eventually, he crawled under the bed where it was darker, cooler, safer. He wished he had both arms so he could cover both his ears, but he could only cover one at a time.

I wonder how long until I’m screaming like them.

Sirius wanted so badly to sleep, and sometimes he did, but it was a fitful sleep full of strange and uncomfortable dreams, dreams that sometimes felt too real. Sometimes he felt like he was back in his bunk in the Program and he was late for something, but he couldn’t get his uniform into regs properly and because of that he was a failure and he wouldn’t graduate from the Program. And then the Warden came in, a tall grim man of 50 years or so, his face set in his signature scowl. He’d make some snide comment, or hurl insults or threaten him. Sometimes he would turn into the Captain, bleeding from his head wound, spouting off nonsense. Sometimes he’d see Dima with a hole in his chest, begging to go home and asking Sirius why it had to be him that got shot, “Why couldn’t it be you?”

Why couldn’t it have been me? Sirius wondered.

It certainly would have saved himself a lot of pain and anxiety if he’d been the one to catch that bullet. Dima was lucky in that respect. He didn’t have to endure being stuck in a tiny and cramped cell, dying of who-the-fuck-knows-what.

These dream-visitors became more frequent, and more real, almost as if they were actually with him in the room. Instead of just one at a time, he could see all three men pacing around the cell, explaining his failures and shortcomings to him, becoming more aggressive. He tried to block them out but trying to do so gave him migraines.

The infection kept advancing, the pressure in his head increasing. It felt like his head was going to explode, the pain leaving him gasping. He had developed a cough, something was stuck in his throat, but it wouldn’t come out, no matter how hard he hacked at it. His body felt weak, and he had given up on trying to count the days. He hardly had the strength to stand, so he settled for crawling and slithering about to move, though he tried not to move too much.

He sometimes could hear outside his door the sound of a cart rolling. He managed to steal a glance through the door’s flap once as it passed. An infected hand hung limply from it, and he recognized the flightsuit as one from the Anna Karenina. He never saw the dead man’s face. It was apparent that They were removing the dead and the cart passed by more and more often.

He found infected lesions not only on his arm, but his legs, back, and stomach too. A very painful one had developed on his face. It stung when the sweat from his fever rolled down into it or when he was seized by a coughing fit. His clothes clung to the weeping sores which always stung when one of his movements tore them away.

The Warden, the Captain, and Dima kept shouting at him, their arguments becoming less and less coherent, they shouted phrases, snippets of things Sirius had heard or read, or declaimed in some unknown language. Sirius sometimes yelled back his voice already hoarse from coughing. One day, he found he no longer had the strength to do even that, and sat in silence and agony, letting the noise and torment wash over him, letting his thoughts reel into insanity.

Then something strange happened.

Sirius was spending one of his more lucid hours trying to conserve energy for whatever would happen next when he heard a quiet knock at the cell door.

He thought he’d hallucinated it. Then it happened again.

Tap tap…tap.

It was almost hesitant.

Sirius crawled closer to the door as the tapping repeated. He peered out through the gap but whoever it was stood just out of his line of sight. He raised a hand and tapped back. The figure appeared to start at the noise, then disappeared completely from view. Sirius rolled onto his back feeling strangely sad that whatever that little interaction was had ended so soon. Then there was a mechanical sounding click and the door fell slightly ajar. Sirius almost didn’t believe it until the door’s inward arc gently collided with his arm. That was real.

What had happened was real.

Sirius waited to hear if the newly opened door would trigger any sort of alarm, silent or otherwise. As the minutes dragged on, he decided it was now or never. He didn’t feel too confident about the prospect of actually getting out, but maybe he’d give Them a bit of trouble before he died.

Sirius grit his teeth and dragged himself upward. The effort sent him into another coughing fit, but by the end of it he was on his feet feeling like he’d rather die than walk anywhere in this state. Still, he kept on, taking smaller, more manageable steps and soon he found himself in the hallway. Looking around, it appeared completely empty until a small figure that he’d not noticed darted from behind a column and disappeared into what had to be another hallway. Sirius followed but he was already feeling fatigued and short of breath.

Find me.

A new voice, it was faint as if it came from a distance. It was not one of the ghosts that was already haunting him. It was gentler, friendlier. Sirius thought maybe it was a figment of his imagination, some part of his dying mind trying to conjure up some sort of comfort before the end.


The voice became demanding, gently so – without malice yet urgent. The voice was real, as real as Sirius was concerned. He found that walking was easier, an odd sort of numbness taking over, like he was only half in control. He didn’t remember what happened next, mostly just a blur of events that all seemed to run into each other and made no narrative sense. He came back to himself in another room, a much different room.

In the center of this room was an odd-looking object. Incredibly old, hewn from some sort of stone. This was interspersed with flowing veins of a purplish growth that glowed slightly and wept a black fluid. The light pulsed slightly, like a slow and steady heartbeat – it was something alive.

Sirius felt drawn to it. He wasn’t afraid of the thing. It seemed to beckon to him, and Sirius somehow understood that it was the source of the voice. He approached it, and as he drew near, the infectious masses on his arms and legs also began to glow with the strange purplish light and yet he was unbothered.

Everything but the artifact was irrelevant now.

Behind him, a door opened, the black-armored guards rushing through. Sirius could hear them shouting but their voices were muted, also irrelevant. What was important right now was the artifact. It demanded his attention, his focus. Gunshots sounded. Sirius observed as if from a distance that he had several gunshot wounds, but he couldn’t feel them or anything else, and they did not slow his progress towards the Artifact.

He felt the artifact become impatient, or was that him who was impatient? It was hard to tell where the lines that separated himself from artifact lay. Its light glowed stronger as he drew near enough to touch it. All he needed to do was touch it, then everything would be okay, the pain would go away.

He could go home.

The light from the Artifact became blinding as Sirius placed his hand on it. The light drowned out everything else, it shone brilliantly washing out all detail, all the hard edges of existence ceased. Then, all became dark.

It’s time to go home.

The story’s not over! Stay tuned for the next part!

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