Blake slammed into a wall as he turned a corner, but he did not let the dizziness stop him. He was hot on the cat-like creature's tail as it skirted around unknowing staff and patients frantically running as the building tremored a few more times.
He screeched to a halt when an older man stumbled in front of him, vomiting blood onto the tile. The man staggered into a nearby wall but Blake jumped over the blood and continued after the Shadow. A few more nurses raced into a nearby room; whether out of fear or to help a patient, he did not know, but his focus was not on them. The Shadow erratically bounced off of walls down the hallways, as if it were lost.
Blake slid again when the creature turned yet another little corner, but not before he watched a few other bystanders cowering on the floor, or coughing and vomiting extensively. Blake breathed in the dust left over from the shaking building, and coughed himself as he kept his eyes on the creature. His mind raced as he continually chased after it. The sudden illnesses of everyone, the tremors and flashing lights, all the machines going haywire...not to mention he could practically taste the fear and panic in the air as plainly as he could smell the blood and a souring sickness.
But something else about the air tasted foul, something almost unnatural. Coughing didn't help; he inhaled almost as much as he exhaled, increasing his nausea with every passing second. Everything in the air made him dizzy, and his stomach twisted in knots.
The creature suddenly skidded to a halt, then without warning rushed right towards a door. Blake tore after it, but could not catch up as it phased right through the steel within a few seconds. Blake looked at the sign to the right of the doorway. STAIRCASE.
He pushed the heavy door open with all his might; the eerie echo of the stairwell was quite the contrast to the chaotic and thick-scented mess of the hospital hallways. Blake looked down, then lifted his chin. The Shadow jumped from railing to railing in its ascent, effortlessly scaling every floor it climbed. Blake rushed up the stairs after it, his hear pounding harder and louder with each stomp up. One flight of stairs, two flights, three, four...
Then he laid eyes on a door and the end of the stairwell, and the creature once again phased right through it.
Blake slammed his body into the exit bar to latch it open. The impact was uncomfortable and threw off his balance a moment, and a chilly gust greeted him as he made his way across the rooftop. Blake slowed down and scanned the entire area, only to find that the Shadow had vanished. There were only a few places to hide up here, behind the rooftop door entrances and some wide but short columns. He proceeded with caution, his eyes trained for any signs of the creature.
"So you came..."
Startled by the sudden voice Blake spun around in a moment's notice. From behind the door column emerged a figure, walking with a confident stride as a couple of Shadows emerged from behind the same pillar. Instinctively Blake stepped backwards and his entire body tensed up.
One of the shadowy wisps jumped onto the man's shoulder and produced this odd hissing-squeaking sound. The man stepped towards Blake at the same time and lifted his hand. Blake held his breath and flinched when the man snapped his fingers. Nothing happened initially, but movement beyond the stranger grabbed his attention, and the sight now revealed to him sent a horrified chill pulsating throughout his body.
A Shadow the size of a small horse, accompanied by three smaller creatures, stepped into full view on the rooftop side. And it its long and snarling jaws...the limp form of June, held by the back collar of her hospital gown. A small bit of blood trickled out of her mouth, but unconsciousness prevented her from struggling free.
The sight behind him had Blake frozen in place, horrified and shocked by what he saw. Before long, though, his fingerprints quivered, and curled themselves inward. He moved, but this time he took a step forward.
"You let her go," he snarled through gritted teeth.
The stranger seemed completely unfazed by the command. "So you care a great deal about her after all. These creatures sensed your residual presence about her aura, and it seems their assumption on a connection turned out to be correct."
Another little Shadow appeared and jumped onto the man's shoulder, holding something in its teeth; Blake immediately recognized it as the one he chased through the hallways and the stairs. The man opened his palm as the creature dropped the old rosary in his hand.
"Is this supposed to be some kind of ward, or a pathetic imitation? Or perhaps, for decorative purposes..."
Enough was enough. Blake took another step forward; his entire body shook violently as he did so as if screaming at him not to move any closer. He could not back down now though. Summoning all the strength he could muster, he declared in a sharp tone, "You let her go. You give that back. And you leave my home!"
His words caught the stranger's attention this time; the latter paused and stared at him for what felt like both a season and a fraction of a second. His expression did not change in the slightest; despite the complete lack of emotion, Blake simply allowed the adrenaline to keep his rage boiling.
Finally, the stranger spoke.
"A poor position for one such as yourself to be making demands, boy." He practically spit out the last word with such contempt in a very threatening undertone. "Do not forget that I was the one who demanded of you first. I requested that you deliver a message to my warden, that I will destroy this place and his empire."
"And I told you that I have no idea what you're talking about!" Blake yelled. "Even if I did you didn't give me any time! You took June minutes after telling all that stuff!"
"That was a mere coincidence of fate," the stranger replied. "I intended to take the girl and hold her hostage until my demands were met, nothing more. However, you came to this place with such haste and of your own will, and my aim was this little hostage. Which returns me to the original point: have you or have you not informed our warden?"
"I don't know who or what that even is!" Blake shouted. "I don't even know who you are."
The stranger's brows contorted a slight bit, almost as though he fought of a rising annoyance within himself. He opened his mouth shortly thereafter.
"If you have not delivered my message and have no intent of doing so, then this girl is useless to me."
The large Shadow carried the still unconscious June towards the man. But Blake refused to let him even approach her.
"No! You leave her alone!"
His attempt to stop the stranger was futile at best, and the shaky terror in his own voice was unmistakable. He needed to figure out a way of protecting his best friend at any cost, but how could he possibly do that?
"Pathetic." The stranger stared at Blake for some time, his expression unreadable. When he spoke, his tone carried both calm and a cold maliciousness that sent a chill up Blake's spine. "The fact that you are marked is unquestionable. Even if you were not aware of your nature, you must have a predecessor who is."
His words caught Blake off-guard. He'd said something similar at the church, but after the conversation with his mother those words now hit differently. Alisha...his mother could see the shadowy creatures like him. And she could see...
This thing didn't belong to you? This isn't yours?
Somehow it was all connected. The man, his threats, marks, and the scythe...but maybe he had it all wrong. He was sure he correctly assumed some kind of connection between them all, but maybe not in the way that he thought. If not through his mother, how was all of this strung together in any way that made sense?
"So you do know something."
How long had he been staring off? When Blake refocused he realized the man was...smiling? The very sight of it sent uneasy chills up his spine. He wanted to take a step back, but fear kept him locked in place.
"In that case, my order still stands. I will be generous and grant you one hour. And, to ensure the incentive sticks..." The man turned his gaze towards June and lifted a finger, beckoning the Shadow gripping her in its jaws forward. The moment her limp form was within arm's reach, the stranger touched the tip of his finger to her neck. Blake's spine stiffened as an eerie gray smoke cloaked the young teen for a few seconds, then it slowly disappeared seconds later. And once it did June's skin took on a paler appearance than before. A little more blood trickled out of her mouth, and her chest expanded and contracted more irregularly with every attempted breath.
"It may take an hour," the man said, his tone very cold and level. "But if her body is weaker...she will not last quite so long."
Those words pushed him, literally, and he ran right towards the stranger. He had already seen what this man could do from the church, which only meant one thing: he'd just given June a death sentence. I won't let her die! His mind screamed at every fiber in his body to reach out and grab his best friend.
"What a fool you are."
Blake couldn't get within ten feet of the man; something yanked at the collar of his shirt from behind and pulled. Wait, not his shirt! Blake spun around, witnessing a large dog-like Shadow clasping the back of his hospital gown, and he wasted no time in contorting his arms about until they slipped right out of the sleeves. The Shadow flew backwards from the force of its own tugging and landed some yards away on its back.
But as soon as Blake broke free, two more creatures descended upon him from both sides, small, but strong enough to hold him back by clutching each of his arms in their jaws. He could feel the painful tearing in his skin, but he paid little mind as terror for his friend filled his every thought.
He reached a hand out and tried to step forward, but something wrapped around his foot and halted his advance. Blake swung a fist but the weight of the Shadow affixed to his arm prevented him from doing anything worthwhile. He lifted his other hand, the Shadow's weight more manageable on his left hand, and propelled his fist into the face of the one grasping his right arm. The creature let out an awful screech like nails on a chalkboard as it let go.
However, a much larger Shadow took its place, and before Blake could react it swung its massive head right into his. He'd never felt so disoriented when a horrific ring plagued his ears and his vision blurred in a series of misaligned images. Thinking he might black out right then and there, he collapsed forward onto his stomach.
Pressure overcame his body as claws of many sizes pressed on every part of his body. In some places, he could even vaguely feel the warm trickles of blood seeping across his skin. Even if he wanted to push up against the shadowy forces, the nausea that sent him crashing down would not allow it.
Ahead of him Blake saw a blurry figure of the stranger, standing in the straightest and most confident manner. A large Shadow remained at his side, and a blurry lump fell to the ground soon after. A riled-up Blake attempted to crawl forward, but he could budge an inch with all the weight.
"I gave you a choice, and a chance," said a distorted voice, a slight echo about the words. "And you waste it. What a pity."
Emotions swirled around in a frantic twister within his mind. Anger at the stranger's threats. Frustration at his inability to defy these Shadows as he could before. Confusion, at the why of everything.
Terror...for his own safety, and her life.
Blake lifted a hand upward, but a Shadow slammed it back on the ground and chomped. He screamed as its wispy fangs sunk deeper and deeper into the flesh of his forearm; the pain from the wound flared up every nerve in his entire body, sending him into a state of numbing pangs. His mind could barely focus amidst the torment. He needed the scythe; if only he hadn't left it in his mother's hospital room. How could he not panic though, after seeing the necklace, June's necklace...
He could have protected himself, he could have protected June. And now, his careless mistake would cost them both.
His right hand lay out in front of him, but he could still do nothing with all this weight atop him. He felt the tears well up in his eyes as the helplessness set in, overtake him. There was nothing he could do.
Blake slowly let his eyes focus again, and the memory of the first time came back to him. Whether it was instinct or another feeling entirely, something did push him to take the scythe in the first place. It had come to him before without warning, so that meant it was possible to somehow summon it. But how? How did he do it that one time? And why couldn't he do it anytime afterward no matter how hard he tried?
Blake clenched both his fists and growled in frustration. Stop thinking, there's no time for that! Just do!
He relaxed his right hand, held it out before him, and closed his eyes. The Shadow sunk its teeth even more into the opposite arm; Blake used every ounce of his will to block it out. He concentrated, pictured the scythe, and honed in on every instance he'd ever used it.
Home, the park, his backyard...Shadows, spirits...send-offs, peace, and battles. He remembered having to aid those lost between life and death, and having to protect himself.
But now, he had to protect the life of another. A very dear friend. He could not lose his best friend no matter what. Something stirred inside of him, the need to put this arrogant stranger in his place, a desire to put all apparitions around him to rest despite what they'd done, and the yearning to protect his best friend at all costs. They pooled together inside of him, and suddenly a singular goal made everything come into focus.
His hand clenched down and Blake's eyes shot open in an instant. His gaze fixated on a singular object before him and his heart swelled with relief, determination, and astonishment all at once.
The scythe was now in his very grasp.