Disconnect. Static ambience…a one, two, three stumble into disarray. Everything cuts out as the dark one crosses the threshold, and the world spins around him.
The floor is on his back–or is his back on the floor?
To the sharp, drawn-out shrill of a woodwind, the portal closes behind him and vanishes entirely–shutting out all shreds of light beyond. Hands stretch along the stone, but there is nothing. He rolls and presses, scrambling for the escape, but nothing remains.
Only the overwhelming presence of absolute silence. Like a tomb, but without even the flies to keep him company.
One foot after the other, he steps toward the wide plaza at the building’s center, visions of a duel and of roses bloomed beneath bursting galaxies moshing through his head.
Candlelit flickers make dancers of the shadows. They take an altar for their stage, and at first there is nothing but the shrine. It is vacant, its only markers the plain red cloth draped across its barren surface, and the mountainous mass of beaded necklaces, their shattered loops forming the colorful peaks of devastation.
Nevertheless, the light strikes it remarkably, pouring down in vibrant beams of sapphire and emerald as cast by the stain glass sky hovering just above it. Depicted therein, a blasted and burning ship sinks into a storm-tossed sea, a sanctuary island of vibrant life settled just out of reach.
All hands will go down with the ship.
He steps forward into the room and his boots clap loudly against the stone, echoing between the pillars and the rocks that hold the building aloft. An equally brisk “shh” reverberates in response.
Spinning on his heels, an explosion of reality greets: the light enraptures him, smothering the expanse of the room and blinding him in liquid absence. Blobs of color dancing through burned eyes take the shape of familiar faces, and the room is populated at last–the die cast to the gentle swell of the drums. There is thunder in the tuba of the earth’s fair roar–and he cannot but consider that he has been here before, and this world, and this room, and all before him is nothing but the end of time.
Purgatory, perhaps? Or the dream of living?
Dozens of identities bow to the rhythm and the roar, and as their hands fold across the seams of shadow-licked robes, the rumbles of the earth settle into dust beside. Only one of them looks up, watching with eyes long-struck. They are the ocean, and the sky–the ripple of all, clouds and waves and passion long contained. He is bared to her. He is speared before her.
A smile crooks her head into the bow, and with the fading of her eyes, so too fades the light of the flames.
He finds his feet. There is only forward, or there is nothing–he is weighed, faltering beneath the heavy hand of shadows lurking, but he throws himself against their walls, bloodies himself on the strain of his own momentum. His hand is in the air. His hand is air. His hand is in her hair and he throws back the cowl that would hide the light itself.
Heads move to the motion, all masks and eyes. There is no retreat. Her skin, porcelain beneath the light. Sad light. Mournful light. Her slender neck is bared, and the breath of music itself holds to the touch upon her skin.
He cannot feel.
And the masks smile.