The sun was bright when Harper awoke with a jerk. Blackman was sitting on his pallet beside him.
"Are you going to leave now?"
"Oh, no, you're not going to get rid of me that easily."
Blackman rose, turned away. His features were twisted with rage. "I'm evil!"
"No, you're not." The other man began to shudder violently. "Billy?" Harper rose, took a step forward, but Blackman stepped away.
"I killed my father."
"Kettle said a tree fell on him."
Blackman laughed in bitterness. "A tree! I placed a curse on him! I made that tree fall!"
"That's balderdash and you know it."
"You're a fool!"
"Maybe. Did you hate your father that much?"
Sadness fought with hatred. "Yes."
Blackman faced the fire place. A tiny flame still burned within its blackened depths. "Did you know he used to rape me when I was a child?"
Sickness made it hard for Harper to swallow. "No."
"Some of those bruises came when I tried to fight him off."
"Why didn't you tell someone?"
"Who? And what would they have done? Tell him to stop? Take me away from him? No one would have cared."
"I would have."
"You!? Would you have gone to him, stopped him?"
"You were such an innocent." How sad Blackman sounded. "I couldn't bear the thought of taking that away from you. It meant so much to me; it was so beautiful, so clean."
Rage exploded again. "I don't want your damned pity!" He moved rapidly forward, fists tight. "Get out! Get out!" He stood tense and stiff in front of Ray Harper.
"Don't send me away, Will. Let me help you."
Panic ripped at Blackman's soul. He ran out of his home.
He was still gone when Kettle came with the scissors and another basket of food. "Is something wrong?"
"Just a slight disagreement with Blackman."
"Are you all right?" the old man inquired. "Yes."
"It'll nay be easy, this course you've set for yourself."
"You're a good man."
"For helping a friend?"
"Blackman's a good person too."
"It's well hidden."
"Aye. It's taken him over."
"Some of that hostility and hatred is legitimate."
"What he told me was said in confidence."
"Then I'll not ask." He contemplated his next words before speaking them. "They're saying in the village that he's hexed you, that you're here against your will."
"How can people be so stupid!?"
"The village is attached to the past since it has very little contact with the future. Take care, Raymond."
"I'll be going now, and Raymond, don't be too trusting."
"He won't hurt me."
"You've been apart too many years; He's changed."
"Not that much."
"Just take care."
It was late afternoon before Blackman returned. Harper had the house as clean as he could by then. Soup was hot on the hearth.
"Kettle brought the scissors. Sit and I'll cut your hair." Harper fully expected obstinacy but Blackman sat without arguing. Bit by bit, the long, black hair fell to the floor. When the cutting was done, Harper said in triumph, "Now you look more like yourself. Let's go into the village and buy our own food. We can't live off Kettle. He doesn't make that much money." He went to the door ... Blackman followed quietly. They did not speak as they went towards the village. The birds sang, the squirrels ran around, but no words were shared by the two men.
The villagers stared at Blackman in stupefied and at Harper in awe as Harper bossed Blackman around, making him carry what he bought. When Blackman gazed in hunger at the ale house, Harper said firmly, "You don't need that, " and Blackman forced his eyes away from the one place in town he had visited frequently.
"Why?" Blackman asked as they walked home.
"You're my friend."
"You don't know me."
"All right, tell me all about Billy Blackman." Blackman remained quiet. Harper prompted, "Tell me about the sea."
"It's got salt in it."
"Don't be an arse. You know what I mean."
"You want to hear that every man on board that ship had me?"
Blackman laughed in contempt. "I wasn't a virgin. Father saw to that. The peddler demanded payment for giving me a ride. The two men in the tavern wanted compensation for getting me a job on their vessel. The men on the ship ..." Blackman shook his head as emotions, long buried beneath hatred and vengeance, tried to arise. "There was never any kindness in any of it. I was simply someone smaller, weaker, someone to use. When I fought back, they used a whip on me. I was kept locked in the captain's cabin whenever we were docked. When I was fifteen, I broke loose and jumped overboard. We were in an Egyptian port then. A rich man caught me stealing food from his garden and abducted me. I became his slave, to do with what he wanted, and what he wanted ... " He licked his lips, tried to swallow. Harper kept silent. Though his heart ached for his friend, he knew any sign of pity and Blackman would take off. "There was never any kindness." The sad expression vanished and was replaced by a grin that made sent shivers of dread up and down Harper's spine. "The Ice Maiden sank a couple of months ago."
"Was that the ship you were on?"
"Yes. I cursed it."
"I highly doubt words you spoke had anything to do with its going down."
They reached Blackman's home and went in. "I'm going to curse that Egyptian."
"Let it go." He set the basket of provender on the table. "Let the hatred go; it's eating away at you. You don't need it."
"I do. I have to be stronger!"
"You don't need hatred to be stronger, but you must discover that yourself."
When they slept that night, a dream came to haunt Blackman, his moans of fear and denial woke Harper. "No! Not now! Please! Not now!"
"He's calling me; I have to go to him." Terror was the emotion in his voice.
"Who's calling you?"
"Shryrclot, the demon of the fire." Harper tried to hold him down but Blackman shook him off and shot up. "He's calling me!"
"Don't go; don't listen. It was just a dream."
Blackman hit him hard enough to daze him. When Harper came to, his friend was gone.
"Oh, God, Billy." Harper dressed in a hurry and ran to Hemispot's ruins. It took him a moment to locate the hidden entrance. The stairs were dark and Harper slipped more than once. His soul could hear Blackman calling to him in horror.
A distant, flickering light caught his attention. Harper increased his speed as much as he could. It was only a matter of seconds but it felt as though hours had passed before he was at the burned out ruins. He picked his way carefully down the steps to the entrance of the dungeon. The smell from the room made him gag. He had to force himself to enter.
Blackman was sanding before the pit, naked. Harper saw only his friend, but Blackman was watching a creature, loathsome, obscene in its caricature of a human being. It advanced on Billy Blackman as he stood silent, frozen.
Blackman watched in horror as the scaly, vile head turned toward Harper. It's red tinted eyes contained pure animal bestiality as it altered its choice.
"NO!" Blackman's hands reached. In his mind, he was embracing the demon, but Harper saw nothing but his friend clutching air.
"Billy? What's wrong?"
"For God's sake, Ray, get out of here!" He seemed to be struggling with some thing but what? In Blackman's mind, he was losing his fight with the monster from the pit. "I can't hold it much longer! Get out while you can!"
"Billy, there's nothing there." He began to walk toward the other man.
Hysteria tinted Blackman's voice. "Get out! NO! You will not have him, not him! I won't let you!" He pushed air towards the pit; he pushed the beast back towards the pit of fire. "I...won't...let you ... HAVE HIM!"
The beast went into the pit. Flames sprang up to claim him again. Blackman's hands were licked by the fire. Shaken, he whirled toward his friend. "Let's go, before he comes back out."
"There was nothing there!"
"There was. We don't have time to talk; we have to leave." He tried to shove his friend toward the door. The flames sprang up high. "Oh, God." He shoved Harper out into the dark hallway. "No!"
By the time Harper had picked himself up and had turned back toward the cellar, Blackman was back at the pit. Surely it was the fire that made his body appear to glow a phosphorescent blue. Surely it was only a trick of the flames that gave an illusion of a creature in the midst of the pit. Blackman appeared to be battling it ... battling and losing.
Harper never stopped to analyze his next actions. He did what he did out of pure. He ran forward, jumped up on the rim of the pit and added his strength to his friend's. He felt something beneath his palms. There was something solid before him. No! It was his imagination; It had to be.
The flames were hot, terrifying. His body would be burned! If he didn't leave, he would die! Harper stayed. If Blackman needed his help, then he would take that chance. His own body became opalescence white; stronger and stronger it glowed. The creature began to shrink. The fire's life began to diminish. Within moments, they had died altogether.
When Harper felt the rim start to crumple, he fell towards the ground, taking Blackman with him. They watched in silence as the walls of the stone enclosure fell in upon itself. Seconds later, the opening was sealed. They felt a rumble beneath their feet.
"We have to get out of here." Blackman jerked Harper up and then shoved him towards the door.
"Nice friends you have, " Harper muttered as he desperately tried to keep his feet.
"Stupid bastard!" Despite himself, Blackman felt the urge to laugh.
Outside, in the cool darkness, the moon guided their way as they made their way to a safe distance. The ruins of the old house shuddered and imploded. It sank rapidly into the ground and dirt and the old stones mingled to form a strange burial place. There had been no sound; the night remained eerily quiet.
Blackman wept dry tears against a tree.
"Will you tell me why you're running around the land naked?" Harper demanded. His voice trembled; his whole body shook with fear. Blackman only looked at him. "What was that... that..." He wiggled an arm towards the pile of rocks.
"A mistake? A mistake!" He took off his shirt and wrapped it around his friend's waist.
"Yes." He took a step towards his home, one, two, three ...
"Billy, was it real?"
"Was it?" Blackman's muscles ached badly. They protested further use. If they had been in charge, he would have fallen to the ground right then and there, but his will, his strong will, kept him moving.
"You're not going to answer me, are you?" He wanted to lie down and sleep but if Blackman could keep moving, then so could he.
"Does it matter? It's over with."
"Yes." Then he thought, 'Almost. There is one last thing I must do and then it really will be over.' They were silent until they reached the house. "I need to be alone."
"You could have been killed."
"You needed me." A shiver ran up and down his spine. "Was it real?"
"Reality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Did you see anything when you came into the room?"
"Just you and the fire."
"Then that's the reality you cling to. Anything else is unimportant. Now go in. I'll be in in a moment."
"You said you were my friend."
"Then go in, please, and shut the door."
Hesitantly, Harper went in; the door shut with a tiny click.
Blackman walked slowly toward a clearing before stopping. His breathing was ragged; It showed his exhaustion. After removing Harper's shirt, he lifted his head, his arms and closed his eyes.
Tiny bolts of electricity covered his naked body. He whimpered in agony. Light radiated from his body. His whimpers changed to sobs as the torment increased. Blackman fell to his knees. He choked back his screams as the movement of black power swam over him and through him. The light that surrounded him shifted from red to blue to yellow and then, finally to a white that grew in radiance until it would have blinded anyone looking. The glow died down and Blackman lay back on the cool grass. There was a lightness in his soul; the hatred was gone, the need for revenge. His memories remained but they no longer controlled him.
"I'm free," he whispered in triumph. Even the hatred had gone. He turned sluggishly and walked proudly back to his home.