“You’re a curious little thing, aren’t you? Always trying so hard to avoid me.”
I’ll not just try. I will.
“Nonsense. You must know by now that I am stronger than you, much stronger. You’re a pitiful creature.”
Reason’s eyes twitched behind her pale pink eyelids. Tiny beads of sweat glazed her brow and clustered above her upper lip.
Her eyes flickered and opened, her gaze wandering over the room—unable to resolve its fuzzy details. I’m tired. I don’t care.
“Well, you will care, dearie, because I merely require your pumping heart and working mind to make you care. I’ll never give in to your cries for mercy. And your pathetic attempts at indifference will never sway me.” Pain sneered and descended. “And whenever I choose to, I’ll expose your spirit for what it is—thin and weak—and then, you wretched little twit, I’ll crush you!”
At the peak of Pain’s rant, Reason surrendered, relinquishing control, and in doing so, drifted into the blissful oblivion of sleep.
Like forcing a door closed against a strong, gusting wind, Reason barely contained her anxiety—knowing that she must do so to avoid the tunnels. She raced toward the large, lone tree. Stay calm. Focus. Eyes—on—the—tree. Dressed in blue jeans and a light sweater over a white t-shirt, her bare feet pounded the dirt path.
Overhead, thunder unfurled and rolled across the sky. As the wind picked up, bits of loose debris lifted from the ground and twirled across her path.
Ahead, the tree shone like a beacon of hope—its enormous, shimmering canopy billowing and rose-pink—its roots plentiful, visible above the ground and spreading in all directions around its gigantic trunk.
As she ran, Reason took darting glances at the yellow-tinged, purple madness above. The dark sky suddenly lit up and a deafening boom erupted. A deep rumbling followed, and then crackled—a fracture breaking far and wide.
The raindrops came intermittently at first, splatting here and there onto the dusty ground. Reason’s legs grew heavy. She looked down at her thin, dirty feet, focusing on their steady movement—ignoring her fatigue. Again, thunder detonated. Keep running. Stay calm. Don’t give in to the fear. Don’t give in. Just get to the tree…
Straining to listen for the terrifying sounds of the tunnels, she could hear nothing above the storm.
The meadow grasses flattened, weighed down by the now heavy downpour. Beyond the tree, a lightning bolt flashed in the bruised sky, a skeletal arm reaching to the ground. The thunder that followed seemed to cackle in sinister approval.
Lurching across the last few yards, Reason burst through the tree’s low-hanging branches and stumbled to the ground, the dirt beneath her hands still dusty-dry.
In frequent flashes of white, lightning lit the battered landscape all around the tree. She rose to her knees, breathless and shivering, and shouted into the uproar, “What now? Where is the sign?”
As if in answer, a tiny glimmer caught her eye, an object hanging from the tree and gently oscillating. Teeth chattering, she moved towards it. A delicate gold chain dangled from the root-twisted trunk. Reason gasped as she recognized it.
With a trembling hand, she reached for the chain—and a ghostly vision of William raced past her—his arm outstretched, his hand reaching for the necklace. Reason cried out in protest, and the vision vanished. When her fingers made contact with the dangling chain, her world went silent and black.