Wake up.

Blistering cold suddenly bit at Tobias’ legs and hands.

Wake up.

Tobias let his eyes drift open of their own accord, and he tried to let them adjust to the darkness that surrounded him. Within a few seconds, he was able to distinguish a small room in which he was sat. A wall directly behind him, against which he was leaning. Something warm was next to him. Turning to his right, he made out a person. Allowing a little longer for his eyes to catch up with the darkness, Tobias saw that the person next to him was Danielle. But she did not seem to notice him.

As a sudden pain kicked into his mind, Tobias thought it may have been the Voices all screaming at once. Bringing up his left hand, he touched it lightly against the corresponding side of his head, feeling the warm but wet lump that seemed to be the source of the pain he was experiencing.

For now it seemed mild, but he was too aware that as the sleepy feeling he was covered in faded away, the pain would increase.

Holding his hand in front of his face, Tobias took a look at his hand, and was able to see blood on his fingers. The same fingers he had just touched to his head. He must have been bleeding. He must have been attacked.

A sudden wave of pain overcame Tobias, and the headache increased in its intensity.

The Dark is everywhere. He lies with you.

The Dark man was here too, or so Tobias interpreted from the Voices’ statement, which seemed to have returned to their cryptic ways of telling him things.

He couldn’t remember much from before. He had been about to climb over the fence to go with the Dark man, showing himself to be a passive person, unwilling to engage in violence, or to have any damage done to him. But now here he was. Sat in darkness, with the Dark man nearby and yet unable to distinguish him. Unable to distinguish the location he found himself in. Danielle was definitely the person sat next to him. His eyesight was clear now, and he for once thanked his mother in silence for making him eat his carrots. Their magical dark vision powers had rubbed off on their predator.

As Tobias tried to ignore the sights of the room and focus on the sounds, he realised there was very little. No traffic could be heard, indicating that the area was quite rural, or maybe that the room in the building was simply well sound proofed, or a few rooms separated the room from the outside world. One sound did stand out to Tobias, though. Deep breaths, in and out, as though whoever was breathing them could not quite get enough air to satisfy their lungs.

Whoever it was, they had a cough. The breaths were interrupted by the small bubbles that formed in the throat with every breath. Bubbles that were not audible until somebody tried to talk or breath. They sounded severe. The Dark man may have been ill.

Looking to his right once more, Tobias was able to clearly make out Danielle next to him. She was moving ever so slightly, indicating that she was breathing lightly, probably unconscious as Tobias himself had been. And yet it was certainly not her making the breathing noises. It was certainly not Danielle. She had been released from surgery, but she was not suffering from any diseases or any mild illnesses. She was actually quite healthy, despite her stabbing. Tobias hoped that she had put up a fight against the Dark man. But it seemed unlikely. How else would the Dark man have known where to go in order to find Tobias? Danielle must have let it slip. She was stronger than to deliberately tell the Dark man where her friend was, where any of the Gifted people were. Complete strangers to her and Tobias, and yet Tobias knew in his heart that Danielle was too strong to give up such vital information.

The Dark is weak. Yet we are in danger.

The Voices were certainly right. Alone in a dark room with no known location and an established killer. Tobias was a nine-year-old boy without a chance of stopping the Dark man from butchering both him and Danielle if he wanted to. So why wasn’t Tobias dead. The only explanation that Tobias could think of was that the Dark man needed Tobias, like the Voices had suggested. The only use he could have been of, however, was for information that Danielle was too strong to part with. Tobias couldn’t stand the idea of torture, let alone torture itself. He was the Dark man’s ticket to claiming the lives of the Gifted for his own.

Yet Danielle remained alive and breathing. Unconscious nonetheless, but certainly alive. What did the Dark man possibly want with both of them? There was no known explanation for his capture and torture of both of them. Kill the more stable one – being Danielle – and spare the weaker one who would be of more use.

Tobias jumped as something moved in the darkness. Something squirmed, and Tobias’ attention was turned to a silhouette in the room. A shadow that was creeping towards him. Still at his own level of sitting down, but a threat nevertheless.

The Dark man was trying hard to breath now, and the bubble in his lungs was causing an irritating husk to his breath, and the first words that Tobias heard him speak.

‘You don’t know anything about them.’ Despite no source of light in the entire room, not even a window, Tobias swore he could make out the slightly dead glint in the eyes of his captor. As he tried to look deep into them to build up an image of what he looked like – the previous viewing having been wiped away by concussion – the Dark man blinked and continued his obviously prepared speech, which although sounded a little melodramatic, sent a shiver down Tobias’ spine with every word.

‘They’re talking to you right now, aren’t they?! Block them out! You don’t need to listen to them!’

Tobias answered with a stutter, but was unable to back it up with real words or any other kind of argument.

‘You’re scared, I know it. But you’re only scared of what you don’t understand. The Voices in your head have told you I’m Dark. They told you I’m evil, that I intend to kill all the Gifted people. They are lying, like they always do!’

He seemed to squirm violently again, thrashing in his position of all fours. Groaning to himself, Tobias heard the low rumble of his lungs. When Tobias walked past people with cigarettes in their hands, talking to their friends, Tobias could always tell that they had been smoking for a long time, because of their voices and the way they coughed. Everything seemed like a hack, every word violent, and every curse even more vulgar than it already was.

‘You see what they do?!’

The Dark man was saying things that Tobias didn’t understand. Or, not that he didn’t understand, but that he couldn’t comprehend how the Dark man knew so much about the Gifted and the like. Maybe he had had prisoners and captives before Danielle and Tobias, and maybe they had been more helpful and loose with their information that Danielle had been whilst she was being used for the short period.

There must have been Gifted people than had been captured before, that had been used to give the Dark man information about the Gifted, and about which people were Gifted and which weren’t, so that he knew who to go after. Tobias hadn’t developed it yet, but Danielle had mentioned a kind of link between all Gifted people. Maybe the Dark man had taken advantage of that for his murders.

‘We can block them out. We can kill them all, we just need to kill their bodies. I need to stop them. I need to kill them. The Gifted don’t understand the torment. Most of them are so young. Too young. Too young to understand the horror that they will face as the Voices stay for longer and longer. But I know. I’m older. I’ve experienced it all. And I know how to deal with it.’

The Dark man could only know all this if he had had somebody to help him.

Tobias resisted the natural urge to stutter his words and then give up, but he fought his fear, and managed to force out the words he had meaning to ask since the Dark man had first started talking. Since the Dark man had first entered Tobias’ list of problems with the Voices.

‘How do you know so much about the Voices?’

The Dark man seemed slightly stunned that Tobias had spoken, and seemed a little bit annoyed that he had interrupted what was becoming more and more like a rehearsed speech. Tobias, towards the end of his question, could tell by the breathing and the almost invisible shadow before him that the Dark man had not been expecting any interruptions, simply out of his overwhelmingly scary appearance and the atmosphere around them. Tobias hoped desperately that the Dark man would not chose to hurt him in revenge. Instead, he seemed to let his moment of anger pass and improvise his monologue.

With a grin that was visible even in the poor light, Tobias watched the mouths slowly form the words, and listened intently to what he hoped would be a good revelation. Judging by the malicious smile, however, it would not be.

‘They found me when I was younger than you. I don’t know why they chose me, in the same way that I don’t know why they chose anybody else. I did not give in to them as you both have. As you all have. I fought it. And I continue to fight it.’

The Dark man took a moment to breathe heavily and deeply, before continuing.

‘They have adapted to me. You are my first prisoners, and it is easier this way. I do not want to let them in any longer. They helped me find the first, but now I will use those who are weaker minded. You and the girl will not last me long. You are weaker, and hopefully will be of some use. But I will have to end it.’

He seemed to be trailing off, but Tobias tried to continue to remain interested, for he was. Absolutely fascinated by everything the Dark man – his enemy of the last four days – had to say. It was important to the Gifted, the Voices, and therefore to him.

‘I knew because they told me. We are all linked. The Gifted and I. I’ve never burnt myself with their brand, but if you must hear the word to understand, so be it.’

He was back in the flow, reciting the words with precision and pace which he had obviously worked out in advance.

‘I am Gifted, as you both are. And I wish to be the last.’

The End

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