The Oxford English Dictionary defines darkness as "the partial or total absence of light." And it's true - ordinary darkness isn't a thing, it's just where a thing, which is light, is not.
Behind the gates in the final world, there is darkness. But the darkness there is tangible. Living. Infinite.
It is older than time, than any universe. The darkness behind the gates is the First Darkness, that existed in balance with the Light of the very first beginning. It is imprisoned, locked away in a cage forged by a god.
But no cage can hold back infinity. Shadows seep between those mighty gates, and they fall through creation, dripping through the boundaries between worlds.
A shadow fell on the ice world.
It passed through to the grey world.
Wherever the shadows fall, they fall with a single purpose, to snuff out the light of life wherever they find it. They feed on it, and the Holy Fire of mortal souls turns to the Unholy Darkness of the monsters.
And now we have followed it back to its source. To the gates of Hell itself.
That's what the voice in the cave called it. I've wondered if that was a metaphor, representing some final challenge that will test us to our breaking points. I don't believe in Hell, or the devil. Evil, true evil, comes from man, not some horned demon from a realm of suffering and fire.
And yet, here I stand, Hayley's body resting at my feet, an insignificant speck in the face of two megalithic obsidian gates, higher and wider than I can take in. The sky is crimson, the ground is black. There is no wind.
These are the gates of Hell. I cannot possibly see what lies behind them, but I can feel it. In my mind, in my blood, in my bones.
"You can sense it, can't you?" a voice suddenly says – the same voice from the cave, what feels like a lifetime ago. I turn sharply, and a figure stands beside me, dressed in the grey, tattered robes of a wandering monk. I cannot make out their face beneath the shadows of their hood, but the voice is male, and carries with it the weariness of centuries.
This is him. The one who called us all this way.
"Who are you?" I ask him.
The man chuckles, but the chuckle dissolves into a splutter, and then a hacking cough that leaves him bent over double, a hand on his chest. I move towards him, uncertain if I should help, but he waves me away with a gnarled, bony hand.
"My name is not important," he says once he has recovered. "I am the Guardian, and it was my voice you heard. All along, actually, not just in the cave. I called you across the worlds - you, and thousands of others, her included," he adds, nodding at Hayley.
There's so much I want to say, to ask, but there's one thing more important than anything else.
"Can you save her?" I ask, praying beyond all hope it's a yes.
"I can," he replies, but makes no move towards Hayley. I look at him, confused and expectant. "But it is not the way."
"You mean you won't?" I ask, disbelieving, and my hand curls into a fist.
"There is nothing that can be done for her by way of physical means. I could employ the powers bestowed upon me to aid her, but there would be consequences."
"To Hell with the consequences!" I shout at him, drawing myself up to my full height despite the pain of my injuries, staring straight at where I imagine his eyes must be. "You brought us here, so that makes you responsible. This is all your fault!"
YOU ARE READING
Lonely WorldsScience Fiction
Felix Aiden Lewis is alone. Somehow displaced from his home reality, he wanders from world to world, surviving however he can, never encountering another living soul - until today.