It was very dark: the tiny smokeless flame barely illuminated the faces of the two figures on either side of it. Against the all-pervading chill of the grim place in which they walked they pulled their hoods well forward and clutched the folds of their heavy cloaks tightly around them. The movement of the light sent their shadows darting around them like huge, grotesque bats.
The taller and broader figure paused and, turning his companion to face him, held the struggling torch up to the others face.
How long have you known? Strong emotion made the deep voice grate harshly on the ears. The vast darkness whispered the words back to themmocking mercilessly.
The speakers companion looked at the others sharp face, where the torchlight hollowed the cheeks cruelly, deepening the agony in the dark eyes under their lowering brows.
For eight long years. The second voice was soft, almost a whisper. But the unrelenting darkness sent the whisper back to them with that same terrible clarity: eight long years; eight long years.
The first one sigheda long, groaning sound intensified and lengthened by the derisive echoes. Then the broad, angular shoulders shrugged under the folds of the cloak.
Oh well, I realise there was nothing you could do. The Absolute Law cannot be broken. Resignation made the voice flat and almost expressionless. But anguish crept back with the speakers next words: Were you able to warn me, it would still have been pointless: I wouldnt have understood anyway. Bitterness crept in to join the anguish.
Even had you understood, it would have made no difference. Knowledge and understanding would merely have meant there would be no periods of peace at allno experience of ordinary life to enjoy in ignorance and bliss. Be glad, dear friend, its the way it is.
One hand emerged from the enveloping cloak and gently rested on the others shoulder. The first figure placed a hand on top of it in sympathy and a frown of remorse sharpened the already bleak features. The dark eyes scanned the second figures face.
Forgive me. I forget: your suffering is at least as bad as mineindeed it must be worse.
There is no joy without pain, the soft voice reminded him. Remember, ecstasy and sorrow are opposite sides of the same coin. And before the end sacrifices will be demanded of all of us.
All of usall of us. The echo grabbed hold of the last words and whispered them round and round in the gloom. Both figures dropped their hands and stared out into the mocking darkness.
Thats where it doesnt seem fair, the harsh voice said. Its one thing for us to be asked to sufferbut how will this affect Peter?and the name came back repeatedly from the unseen walls. How on earth are we going to tell him? the speaker demanded after a brief pause. This will grieve him more than it does us. Hes only a boy, remember.
The soft voice hardened. We tell him nothing. His role will be onerous enough without our interference. He'll find out in the fullness of time as we have done. When the time comes he will be equal to whatever is demanded of him: the Earthlight is not without mercy and he is the First Chosen One of the Earthlight.
Of course. I had briefly forgotten. The voice was softened by apology and unwonted humility. The speaker gave another sigh. Lets find what weve come for as quickly as we can. Keeping this torch burning is draining me of what power I have: the walls seem to be absorbing all the light.
It wont always be like that, the soft voice said, strong with confidence, as the two moved forward, each with a hand on the others shoulder. A smooth black arch, in which a heavy-looking black door was set, suddenly appeared in front of them. It looked like the entrance to a burial vault. There was no handle and no lock. A short flight of steps led down to the door. Here we are.
While the first figure held up the light, the speaker descended the steps and placed both hands flat against the door, which silently opened onto another short flight of stairs. Both figures went down into the almost palpable darkness; the door closed upon them and the light went out.
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