The morgue was cold at this time of night. The darkness had leached away any sort of warmth the winter sun had given it that day, chilling the bones of the earth and frosting the ground with ice. Heavy beams crisscrossed overhead, the dark wood sturdy and unyielding. The cracked bar could be seen as a dark shape in one corner of the room, empty bottles stacked on its surface.
Alexa shivered, wrapping her arms around herself as she tucked her head more firmly into the scarf wrapped around her face. She had come to this place to do something that was either insanely stupid or simply practical—she hadn’t decided which. What she had decided, though, was that she would survive it.
Her green eyes flickered to the others around her. Aladdin was standing with House, clearly nervous as he shifted his weight from side to side. Dark hair hung in front of his angular face, eyes shifting from one location to another. His colorful scarves were muted by the gloom, reds and pinks turning into browns. Bastion stood nearby, her short hair covered by a hood as her impossibly blue eyes stared seriously forward. She had left her shield and weapon behind; apparently, she didn’t think she needed them. Alexa bit her lower lip, placing a hand on the hilts of her sheathed blades.
House moved forward, a wide hood obscuring most of her face as she spoke in her calm, monotone voice, “Are you ready? Anything else you wish to say?
Alexa glanced to the others. They remained silent, and then she nodded, “Ready as I’ll ever be. We’re going to make it out. We’re going to be fine.” It felt like a bird was fluttering in her chest, making her lightheaded as she watched House’s solemn expression, set with eyes the color of the ocean. The Graverobber nodded once to her words in response and then turned toward the stone steps that led further into the morgue—further into death.
Dying is uncomfortable; not painful—uncomfortable. It’s the feeling of your body going cold as your nerve endings die—like when your leg falls asleep. Everything feels heavier. Everything is harder to move.
You suddenly realize you’re not breathing. You remind yourself to take another breath and suck in another lungful of air. That’s when you notice that the sounds around you have become softer—fuzzier. People say things and you can’t understand them. You’re not breathing again—it’s too hard. The edges of your vision go dark. All you can see is what’s in front of you—and then it’s suddenly too hard to keep your eyes open.
Everything goes dark.
And then your heart stops.
Why can’t they see?
There was nothing in the ground—just darkness. Voices floated. Voices murmured. Voices said everything and nothing. Alexa opened her mouth—no, that wasn’t right. She didn’t have a mouth, did she? Was she thinking the words she spoke? Did it matter?
Why can’t they see?
There was no response. Panic gripped her momentarily and then she heard Bastion’s voice. Voice? Or thoughts? Which is it when you’re in the Gravemind?
Why can’t they see?
“Aladdin? Are you there? Aladdin? Aladdin, respond…please.”
His response came slowly, reluctantly, “…Here.”
Why can’t they see, Graverobber? Why can’t they see?
What was there to see? The truth? I’ve been wearing the mask for so long…no. Treat it like a puzzle, Alexa. Treat it like a problem that needs to be solved—and solve it.
Why can’t you see?
“I’m a monster.”
“I’ve always run away. Mickey was right. I always run.”
The first breath she took made her feel giddy. Air rushed into her lungs and if she had had breath enough, she would have laughed. She looked out into darkness, feeling her heart beat, feeling blood rush through her veins, feeling alive. She blinked back tears and glanced nervously upward toward the entrance of the morgue. Dim light filtered downward. The other two had already made it out; she was the only one left—but she was alive.
Alexa took another breath and walked slowly out of the morgue, stumbling. She had seen what lay beneath the mask. She had seen the truth; she had lifted the blindfold and saw what she had been running from all this time. In the end, it was nothing to run from at all. Alexa smiled.
It was time to stop being afraid.
“Are you done running?”
What she didn’t tell him was that she had finally found a reason to stay.