Somewhere, a voice, calling in the dark.
“You still haven’t found me yet?”
Zeke hurried through the pitch-black corridors, searching madly for the source, as he had done many times. Always, he hunted the woman’s voice, and failed, and starved, here in the dark. It looked like he was going to fail again – he didn’t seem to be any closer to the sound than he had started, even with his improved hearing.
“I’ll give you a hint!” the voice called out, and he couldn’t decide whether or not it was taunting him.
He had spent two weeks on his research, under voluntary lockdown, and at last he had figured out the cause of his “feral episode”. It had been fairly obvious that the problem was related to his transformation from the beginning. The exact details, however, became a bit horrifying as he looked into it more and more.
Apparently, when he was trying to avert the transformation into a rat, he hadn’t tried hard enough. Parts of his brain and sympathetic nervous system had degraded, succumbing to the transformation, becoming like those of a rat. It was nothing short of a miracle that he hadn’t experienced internal bleeding in the brain or some sort of system shock and died. As it was, certain triggers – such as some parts of the stress response -would cause those parts of him to essentially take over, causing him to behave like a feral rat.
So, of course, he knew the solution immediately; he had to repair the damage. It would require a lot of preparation. Messing around with your own brain and not knowing what you’re doing beforehand, or being ill-equipped, is likely to be fatal even with magic. He had reserved a room for the ritual he intended to use, and found some people to help him with it.
“Some of these items are going to be hard to get,” Zac had said, looking over the list.
“Some of them can only be found on certain planes,” Zeke added.
“You want me to send Peepers or Chebon to get them?”
“Nah, I’ll find them myself.”
Zac nodded, then paused and did a double-take. “Wait, do you mean to say you’re…”
“Devilishly good-looking. And I’m also a planeswalker. Yeah, I awakened on my third day in lockdown. Didn’t tell anyone because I needed to get this done.”
“And because you wanted to set up that joke.”
“Well, yeah, obviously.”
The ritual had gone as planned. Zeke repeatedly exposed himself to stimuli that he knew would trigger the rat instinct over the next few days, and none caused him to enter the state he had during that mission.
There was nothing else in the corridors except the sound. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to smell. He couldn’t even be sure there were walls to touch – when he tried to approach them, he simply found he couldn’t move any farther – but there was no accompanying tactile sensation, his joints simply locked up and refused to go any farther. And when he started thinking about this, gradually he began to lose feeling in his extremities – so it was better not to think about it.
“Come on, if you’re going to make this so difficult…”
Zeke felt like screaming at the voice to shut up. He had had enough of this madness. With a disgruntled cry, he swung blindly at nothing – and hit something. He felt something move, which was the first time he had experienced any sensation here other than the voice.
“Oh! You’re getting closer!”
Zeke shook his head to block out the voice. Taunting him? Distracting him? Helping him? He didn’t know and didn’t care, he just wanted to get out of here. He tried to reach out to whatever had moved, but he only brushed it as it moved away from him.
“I can’t believe you convinced them we need to construct a satellite,” Chebon commented as they left the meeting room.
Zeke shook his head. “Have you seen the data? It’s a miracle there was any plant life at all on this planet with no natural satellites.”
“And you got them to name it after you?”
Zeke paused. “…er… it’s being called The Moon…”
“Yeah, they… wait…”
“Well, now I’ve got some business to take care of across campus. Never thought locking myself up for two weeks would put me so far behind schedule.”
As Zeke walked away, he chuckled softly under his breath.
Mostly by feel, as far as he could feel anything, Zeke managed to follow whatever he had touched, until at last, up ahead, he saw a glimmer of light.
He emerged in a brown stone room, the kind you see in typical ruins in movies and stuff. A large, open door stood at the opposite end, but he couldn’t see through the door, because in the center of the room was a large, ghastly figure. One half of its body appeared to have the color and texture of marble, and the other half jet. It was shaped vaguely like a human, but easily twice the size, and with a build that certainly was not designed to contain human biological systems – far more top-heavy, everything would be in the wrong place, a few tentacles scattered about. Additionally, Zeke thought he could make out the outlines of multiple faces, on the sides of its head, though only the side facing him had any detail to it.
None of this really bothered Zeke. What utterly terrified him was the realization that this was where the voice was coming from.
“So,” came the female voice, from a source that was not good to hear any voice at all coming from, “I see you’ve finally decided to drop by.”
“What is this, then, some kind of metaphor for death?”
“Oh, not at all, I’m afraid. I am Jyan’us Hyiel, the Mistress of Passages.”
“Because it sounds like a metaphor for death.”
“You’ve still got to keep moving, otherwise you’ll never reach the end.”
“Which is where I die?”
The monster sighed and raised a tentacle to what might have been a forehead, in a disturbing imitation of a human expression of frustration. “No. Look, I’m not going to play games with you. Now, into the hedge maze so we can race.”
Zeke blinked. “But didn’t you just say that you-“
As the creature turned and moved through the door with surprising speed, Zeke saw that there was in fact a hedge maze on the other side. Figuring that since he didn’t know what the stakes were, it was best to assume they were very high indeed, Zeke followed quickly.