Into the Black
Jack woke up in pain. Everywhere, every nerve ending in her body screaming about heat and ice and the slashing of knives. But that wasn’t right. She was a Necromonger now, blessed to be without pain. And it was over that quickly, the transition to the Underverse. Like a light going out and all of that screaming hurt imploding in a moment, releasing her to something else. Something like numb. Death. That’s what she would have called it when she was that other girl, the one who felt things and thought that made her alive. The one who hurt and bled and followed.
She didn’t remember a time when she hadn’t followed him. Into the pitch black once and then into a hard, lightless place. She couldn’t follow him from here, but she knew it was only a matter of time. He would come for her. He always did. But there would be no rescue this time. No one wanted to be rescued from the Promised Land even if it was something like hell.
She remembered hearing that humans aren’t physically capable of remembering pain and almost smiled. But smiling was about pain as well so she didn’t. She had the gift now and not even her memories could touch that raw place. And she recognized her pursuit of him, could see its source so clearly now that it was something distant and untouchable. It just looked like a wound that needed to heal.
She had real wounds now. One in her neck. One in her back. But they didn’t whine or cry, they just were. They would heal or they wouldn’t.
“Life is pain,” she remembered someone else saying. But they were wrong. Because here she was alive and the deepest wounds didn’t speak.
Opening her eyes she found a gray world full of the pale forms of her brothers and sisters. Cold, she thought, but wasn’t sure because cold was a kind of pain.
Of course hell was cold, not hot.
There was a city around her: Dark, crooked towers and hands reaching out to pull her to her feet. She reached instinctively for a weapon feeling the hard lines of a knife at her waist, but there was no need. Yet.
“Rise, sister.” A voice said above her and she recognized the presence of other bodies like hers. Too many to take out on her own. “We must prepare,” he said and she stood to join them.
There were things she knew without trying like the layout of the city and the workings of the machines that connected them all, but there were things she didn’t know like why. And when.
“Prepare for what?” she asked, surprised at the sound of her own voice. Jack’s voice. A boy/girl again. Maybe this was a dream. But there was no Riddick so it couldn’t be.
That was another thing she knew, that she wasn’t Jack anymore. She was Kyra. Kyra the murderer. Kyra the slave. Kyra the prisoner who’d done unspeakable things in that dark, hot hole in the world. Had unspeakable things done to her. She believed in the beginning that she was waiting for him, but when he arrived she finally understood: she was waiting to be him. Hoping the dull torch of the level three slam would weld and melt and reshape her into the person who could defeat monsters. The one who could see in the dark and destroy armies with only the body as a weapon. And she was. Becoming.
“For his arrival,” he said and walked away, the other bodies moving quickly behind him. Kyra simply nodded, moving in step with the rest. She didn’t know who was arriving but she knew how to wait for him. How to prepare. She’d spent most of her life doing just that.
Winding through the alleys and narrow streets , Kyra tried to know more about her new home, but couldn’t find the handle for memory of a place she’d never been. It was slippery. The streets weren’t familiar until she walked them and anticipated every crack. Every stone. And she knew that everyone here knew in the same way, which took away her advantage. Kyra had counted on her brains in the slam. Tricks and manipulation, knowing every secret nook, every weakness was the only way to survive. Now they all knew them and, like her, they felt no pain.
She would have to find another way to prepare. Another advantage would have to be found.
When they finally arrived at the Great Hall, Kyra separated from her group and automatically took her place in the 23rd place in the 157th row, 19th column. They all stood waiting and Kyra knew they could wait for years without moving. But it was only hours. Or maybe days. It was difficult to be sure. Without the pain her mind was nearly silent. She could watch the internal play of the last moments of her other life without anger.
Feeling the silent knowable solidity of the others around her, she felt free for the first time. She would have left, would have stopped waiting and searching for once if she hadn’t known in that other way that she had to be here. It was almost time anyway. The deep red sun was setting again.
He arrived the way he always did: alone, angry and followed. Soldiers fell in behind him, but they weren’t hunting this time. They belonged to him the way she used to.
“Kyra!” his voice echoed through the great hall, severing the silence. It took her a moment to recognize her own name. The part of her that was herself was so far away now. It was like the slam again, she thought. The slam with no hunger and no pain. No fear. She smiled this time and fingered the hilt of the dagger at her waist, thinking of all the things she could have done differently. But that girl was dead.
“Kyra!” He yelled again and she watched the ripple as he tore his way through the bodies of those like her. She wouldn’t answer him. That wasn’t the way the story went. He was the hero who wasn’t. She was the sidekick or maybe the damsel in distress. It was his job to search and find.
They parted before him like curtains, like her eyes finally opening after a long sleep. He stood before her panting and sweating, an unfamiliar expression on his face.
Pain, she realized, but she couldn’t remember really what that meant. It was just a word now. Something to be stripped away so that others could join them in this paradise of cold.
“She’s coming back with me,” he said to the room of her brothers and sisters, suddenly all motion and intent. As if his word wasn’t the end and the beginning here. He was the leader now, the godhead. “We’re gonna find a way to fix this.” His hand was like iron on her arm as the sun went below the horizon, the world growing even darker. She could see through the black now like it was clear water. His eyes like mirrors floated away.
“I’m not going back,” to pain, she said, but he didn’t hear her still looking for the battle that wouldn’t come. The soldiers flanked him protectively, guarding their leader, but he saw only the fight.
The grip on her arm tightened because she was meant to follow, but she pulled away. He spun to face her, his face angry and tight like a fist.
“Look, I don’t have time for this shit – “ he began, the words meant to hurt, but they slipped off her like sunlight.
The blade slipped in easily. His feral eyes opened in surprise, that smug smile forming on his lips like this was everything he wanted, like he had planned it this way from the beginning. Like it was love. “You keep what you kill,” he said as he dropped to the cold floor.
His soul was the sharp hot flash of something familiar and she understood that she didn’t need her own pain anymore. Riddick’s was waiting for her.
It wasn’t curtains this time but a wave of bowing bodies that followed and preceded her. They all murmured the words of their fallen leader and looked to her with searching eyes.
Kyra who was Jack who was something else entirely stepped over his body knowing that there would be no more waiting. She had finally arrived.