A Christmas Keyrol 4

Chapter IV


The Keymaster again opened his eyes, to find…scarcely anything. Everything was dark, and he could barely see what was in front of him. As his vision adjusted, he came to find that he was in a grey, snow-covered forest. Despite how his surroundings appeared, he felt abnormally warm. The thick black cloak enshrouding his form did not help much.
“Is anybody here?” The Keymaster called, as he ventured through the woods. Eventually, he noticed that the sound of snow crunching beneath footsteps seemed to have multiplied, as if two beings were walking rather than one. Yet when he looked all around, he saw nobody else in sight. Onwards did the Keymaster continue to walk, until he noticed that his own shadow cast on the snow seemed to be changing . Its shape went from his own silhouette, to a hunched and hooded figure, before it stopped following his movement completely. The Keymaster, too, stopped in his tracks, and gazed upon this warped shadow in confusion. He waved his arms and tilted his head, yet the shadow remained still. Suddenly, it burst forth into the third dimension, taking on a solid physical form. The bottom of the figure’s cloak flowed like black flames, melting the snow around him into a sizzling plume of steam as he began to slowly approach The Keymaster. The Keymaster took several steps backwards, but found himself cornered and unable to evade this being. Two purple lights shone from beneath the being’s hood as he stopped directly before The Keymaster.
“Are you…the third emissary?” The Keymaster slowly asked, attempting to maintain his composure.
The hooded figure nodded. “That I am. But you already know what I truly am…” he said as he lifted his face to reveal a charred skeletal visage.
The Keymaster’s eyes widened in shock and recognition. “Augustus?!”
“Augustus is dead, you fool!” he snapped, before flashing a crooked grin. “And so is Gatekeeper. I have not come to show Gatekeeper’s future, but rather yours. You, the one who currently lives to experience this.” With that, the figure extended one of his arms outwards, pointing towards something deeper in the forest. As The Keymaster peered in its direction, a grey light illuminated the area to reveal several mangled forms limping about. He saw many humanoid beings with blue robes and black wings, bearing gruesome malformities.
The Keymaster was disturbed by this sight. “What happened to them?”
“They faded.” the figure simply answered. “And the same fate may very well befall you.”
The Keymaster shook his head in denial. “No, that is simply not true.”
Icarus cackled. “How rich that you choose ignorance even in the face of the truth. Such will inevitably lead to your downfall.”
“You lie, shade,” The Keymaster replied.
“Do I? Your negligence up to present has proven costly. Just how much more do you think you can take?”
The Keymaster stood silent, still refusing to believe the being’s words.
The figure sighed. “I suspected you’d not heed reason alone. It seems that the only way to convince you is by showing you your ultimate fate…” With that, he placed a black bony hand on The Keymaster’s shoulder, and everything warped around him. This scene, he viewed not from a detached perspective but instead his very own eyes.

It was another year, and another Christmas. And like nearly all that came before, The Keymaster did not celebrate. He was alone, in the sanctum of his tower, brooding in the weight of his own presence. He had grown ever-distant from humans and entities alike, desiring nothing more than complete isolation. None of them understood him. They didn't suffer what he did. They were ignorant and unsympathetic to his burdens. They were unworthy of his presence or acknowledgement. The entire Hub itself was practically vacant. Barely any human dared venture there, for they feared incurring The Keymaster's wrath; or worse, being imprisoned by him. His heart had closed off entirely.

But quite curiously and suddenly, his cloak felt different to him. Nothing had really changed on a visible level; it did not sit any differently on his body than normal. But instead of it feeling like a part of his being, it felt like an article of clothing that was separate to him - something he just so happened to be wearing at this moment. This was confusing to him, as he normally felt quite connected to it. But in a split-second, his attention left it - his mind having adjusted to this new normal state.

On his way to his bed, he stopped to observe the hook on his wall where he normally hung his keyring each night. Why have I never thought to hang up my cloak before sleeping? he thought. He thought about how strange it was that he slept in this thing each night for every night of his entire existence.

At that moment, he immediately began to feel extremely sick. He tried to regain his composure by leaning on his desk, but he clutched it tightly to stop himself from doubling over.
He felt like he felt like he felt like he felt like he felt like it was harder to think than usual. He felt like he was thinking in circles. Looking around his room he felt misplaced - why did this space he had spent the bulk of his existence in become so alien to him all of a sudden? He tried to focus of the relief sculpture of himself that was carved in the wall opposite him. Straining his eyes to see, he found that he could not. It was a blur and he didn't understand it. He didn't understand. He didn't. His attention shifted a blot of black liquid that had fallen to the ground. He dipped a finger in the substance and analyzed it more closely. It felt tacky, and smelled of something putrid. Even stranger, it caused a burning sensation. The creeping dread would only deepen when yet another drop of the liquid dripped onto his hand, and he realized that it came from his face. He then tried to focus on his hand. It appeared as though it was losing its structural integrity, that its scaffolding would soon fail to keep up its appearances. He felt pins and needles, as the flesh began melting and sloughing off to reveal a pale white skeleton of a hand, which then too began blackening and disintegrating.

He. He didn't. He. Didn't understand.

His vision distorted further, to the point that he could only see from one eye. Looking down upon the growing black puddle around him, he saw his other eye gazing back up to him before being swallowed by the liquid. He tried to scream in horror, but his mouth had already melted by that point.

His vision faded completely, and his thoughts desiccated as they came into being.

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