Sight just returning from dust blindness, Harl tried to make sense of what he was seeing, and all he could think of was the ink in the water, the blood in the canal. Something flowed in through the broken door, a black liquid shadow pulling wood and broken men in with it like the hungry sea below the castle had finally come to get him. Drowned in it were dead bodies, grey-robes, tossing about as the changing shape of it came around the door, or threw suddenly appearing clawed hands into the room to drag the rest of it in. Cracked black skin rubbed against the stones of the study, then flowed upwards to become smoke like, to dance along the ceiling. And somewhere in that mess of parts and shapes, and dead men, and destroyed doors, a mouth opened.
“Harl! Where is Harl?!”
It was Fysiwon.
Harl stood forward, ignoring Orinius’ chattering behind him as the man tried to find refuge behind his large desk, and to draw Harl back there with him. Harl refused and stepped forward instead.
“Friend. Friend its me.” His bones were shaking in his skin. He wanted to run, he wanted to scream. But he stood his ground, mind whirring as it tried to find the path out from here.
He flinched as the creature suddenly flung a thick wave of itself at Cole, knocking him away and making his body skid into the foot of shelves, the chest bursting open as it smashed into his prone body.
“Friend! Please!” Harl begged.
The darkness seemed in its mess of parts to turn most of itself towards him. He tried to ignore the bodies floating inside it, the horror on their pale dead faces. He stepped forward again.
“You found me.”
“The spiders found you. They told me where to go.” His voice bubbled from some small part of him Harl couldn’t see.
“I called them. They walked on me and I gave them purpose through my body. A quest. Protect my friend. Find my friend!”
The boys and the grey-robe, the ones how had died by poison! But the spiders in the castle were ordinary cobweb spinners, so how had they hurt them?! How had he changed them?!
“Don’t listen to it!” Orinius hissed. “It’s mad. They’re all mad. Whatever power it thinks it has-”
A thin tendril whipped out to smash Orinius across his mouth, opening up his cheek and spilling his glasses and his blood across the desk.
“I remember you, Fyval. I remember you! You locked me away. I remember!”
Fyval. Harl remembered something from the book of five, six, one. A small ‘F’ marked next to the first entry about the first boy put into the room. Nearly a hundred years ago.
“We can go, friend. We can go. We can get away from Fyval, and the castle, and all of it.”
The shape slowed slightly, its mad whirling calming. The bodies in it started to drop, sliding out from Fysiwon and falling down by clawed feet that became flowing tendrils supporting his body. Harl watched as two patches of cracked flesh solidified and became closed eyelids of black scaled skin. The eyes opened, and Harl looked into young eyes much like his own. Woods-voln green eyes.
“I want to go home Harl. Back to the trees. Back to my father. He’ll be looking for me.”
Harl could not speak, tears pricking his eyes. So he just nodded.
“I was a Briarknell. I remember now. I was a Briarknell and I had a bow with greened arrows. Take me home Harl.”
“We can find it.” His voice was hoarse.
Behind him he heard Cole stirring, coming to, slowly moving to get his roarer into his hand.
“Don’t!” He turned and raised his palm in warning, but it was too late. The sound of the weapon rang in his ears as Fysiwon reared back, a seeping hole between his two floating woods-voln eyes. An inhuman roar became the sound of the sea when it had swallowed Harl in the broken room of the castle where they were washed clean. Fysiwon swallowed him up whole, pulling him away with him as he retreated out of the room, a dark tide with spikes and claws and teeth. Everywhere Harl looked as his body was thrown and tossed about was cast into purple cast shadow. For a second he saw Cole in dark purple at the broken door, reloading his roarer. Then Harl was facing the ceiling, then the floor. Rolling over and over, lost in the wyrd sea that was Fysiwon. He screamed, expecting the black to rush into his lungs like salt water, but he could breathe in the shadow flesh of his… friend.
They moved through corridors, endless similar passages, where grey-robes tried to halt their progress and were flung aside. A familiar door flashed past and Harl tried to gesture, his arms pushing against shadows like thick treacle. But Fysiwon turned and burst through the door to the small courtyard where Cole had chosen to sleep in a horse stall. The dogs in the kennel were howling as they rushed past, parts of Fysiwon darting out to shape vicious lances aimed towards the dogs, but just in warning. Other grey-robes came to the commotion but Fysiwon moved around them like they were small boulders in a stream, racing towards the walls of the courtyard, and then rolling up, grasping it with outstretched parts of himself as though he was a climbing ivy. Then they were over and into a much larger courtyard, the great main gate of the castle just there ahead of them. Freedom within grasp.
Fysiwon suddenly stopped, and all about Harl he felt the wyrd flesh trembling. Slowly, gently, he was released and slid down to the grown beneath the flowing, twisting shape.
“Why have you stopped?”
“I miss my room Harl.” The voice was small. “It’s all I remember.”
He had to think this out. He tried. “You’re a Briarknell!”
Fysiwon carried on as though not hearing. “I remember the trays. And the hours sitting in the dark. Or was that you Harl? Sometimes I’m the one sitting and sometimes it’s you. Sometimes I’m the monster in the dark, and sometimes it’s in front of me. Sometimes I hear the screams of the ones I hurt. But then, other times, it’s me, screaming in the dark. Begging them to open the door because it hurt me. Such a small little hurt. Not like the others. Didn’t lose a hand or an arm. Just a small pain in my back when the monster in five six one gave me it. The thing they wanted so very much. Such a small pain, nothing. But then they locked me in chains. And then in the room. I miss my room Harl. I know my room.”
“I don’t understand Fysiwon. But we need to go!” He looked about, expecting grey-robes to be descending on them. But the large courtyard was quiet and grey under the cold moon. Harl looked up at Fysiwon, barely able to see him in the half-light but finding points where it reflected off of a spine or a twist of scale. “We could get out. Just the two of us. We could find somewhere safe to be. We could find a way to live. Outside of the room.”
A deep sigh. “I’ve been like this for too long to be out there. The madness, Harl. It’s always in me.” The two eyes returned as a ripple of his shape made a near human shaped face for them to settle in. Harl and Fysiwon could have been cousins. The same sharp features with the twist of confident trickery. A wry smile on the creature’s lips could have been Harl’s when he thought of a way, when he thought of the trick of it. “Lios wants it. He’s always wanted it. Maybe you can be the one to finally give him his wish. Ram it right down his throat for all the boys he’d sacrificed trying to get it. Yes. You could do it, Harl, you’re still yourself. I could give you a quest!”
“I don’t understand-” A sudden creak behind them and the gate between the courtyards was opening and he could hear the impatient clatter of a horse’s hooves. “We have to go Fysiwon!”
He was swept up again, this time vertigo swallowing him as well, as the flowing body pulling him up the wall beside the great gate and then tumbled over it. Harl’s body twisted just in time to see Cole on the mare, galloping into the main courtyard, roarer and crossbow aiming for the dark shape at the top of the wall. And then they were falling, flowing, downwards. Fysiwon’s body became something with many legs that ran and leapt along the sea path, heading North. Occasionally he muttered about quests and Lios, his voice sounding to Harl, still in the midst of him, like it was coming through water.
They came to another halt, at a place where the path brought them close to the sea. Harl was pushed out again, finding his feet after riding for so long. Fysiwon seemed to contract, pulling as much of himself down into a boy’s form as he could, even trying to make the shape of a plain tunic and trousers. He lacked some features, his skin was still black and it sometimes bubbled and twisted into spikes and scales, but two woods-voln eyes looked into Harl’s again.
A small smile on a nose-less face. “Harl. Thank you Harl.”
“For being a friend. For going away so I would finally leave my room to find you. For telling me stories and for reminding me of songs I knew. For questing for me.”
Before he could finish the name, a thin tendril darted out from the boy-thing and nicked the bare flesh of his cheek. It was barely a cut, just a dot of blood. But the second it happened he knew something was wrong. The world began to tilt, and Harl only just saw Fysiwon flow quickly over the edge of the high cliff like water over a waterfall, before he himself fell down. He smashed his face on the path as his body collapsed into blackness.